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In studies of singletons, a range of early-life characteristics have been reported to be associated with handedness, but some of these associations have failed to replicate. We examined associations between 23 early life characteristics with handedness in a large sample of 37,495 5-year-old twins. We considered three definitions of handedness: left-handedness (LH), mixed-handedness (MH), and non-right-handedness (NRH). Our main aim was to test whether the associations with sex, birth weight, gestational age, and season of birth — as reported in singletons — replicate in twins, and to examine twin-specific variables, including zygosity, chorionicity, birth order, and intertwin delivery time. Compared to previously published data from adults born as singletons (7.23%), the prevalence of NRH was higher in both twins (16.19%) and their parents (15.09%). In the twins, LH and NRH were associated with parents’ LH. Male sex and lower gestational age were associated with NRH, and LH was associated with not being breastfed. MH was related to neurodevelopmental delays and higher externalizing problems later in childhood. Other previously reported associations were not replicated, and no twin-specific characteristics were related to handedness. These results emphasize the importance of considering multiple definitions of handedness and indicate a small number of replicated associations across studies.
Loneliness is related to mental and somatic health outcomes, including borderline personality disorder. Here, we analyze the sources of variation that are responsible for the relationship between borderline personality features (including four dimensions, affective instability, identity disturbance, negative relationships, self-harm and a total score) and loneliness. Using genetically informative data from two large nonclinical samples of adult twin pairs from Australia and the Netherlands (N = 11,329), we estimate the phenotypic, genetic and environmental correlations between self-reported borderline personality features and loneliness. Individual differences in borderline personality and loneliness were best explained by additive genetic factors with heritability estimates h2 = 41% for the borderline personality total score and h2 = 36% for loneliness, with the remaining variation explained by environmental influences that were not shared by twins from the same pair. Genetic and environmental factors influencing borderline personality (total score and four subscales separately) were also partial causes of loneliness. The correlation between loneliness and the borderline personality total score was rph = .51. The genetic correlation was estimated at rg = .64 and the environmental correlation at re = .40. Our study suggests common etiological factors in loneliness and borderline personality features.
The Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) is a national register in which twins, multiples and their parents, siblings, spouses and other family members participate. Here we describe the NTR resources that were created from more than 30 years of data collections; the development and maintenance of the newly developed database systems, and the possibilities these resources create for future research. Since the early 1980s, the NTR has enrolled around 120,000 twins and a roughly equal number of their relatives. The majority of twin families have participated in survey studies, and subsamples took part in biomaterial collection (e.g., DNA) and dedicated projects, for example, for neuropsychological, biomarker and behavioral traits. The recruitment into the NTR is all inclusive without any restrictions on enrollment. These resources — the longitudinal phenotyping, the extended pedigree structures and the multigeneration genotyping — allow for future twin-family research that will contribute to gene discovery, causality modeling, and studies of genetic and cultural inheritance.
Migraine and tension-type headache (TTH) are often viewed as distinct entities and defined as such in the International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd edition (ICHD-II) criteria, although there is also empirical evidence to suggest they may be etiologically similar. This study aims to investigate whether migraine and TTH are etiologically related conditions. First, we explored whether migraine and TTH were associated with the same environmental and lifestyle risk factors at the population level. Second, we examined comorbidity of migraine and TTH in a twin design. By comparing the associations in monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs, we investigated whether the comorbidity can be explained by genetic factors that influence both conditions. Results indicated that migraine and TTH were largely associated with the same environmental and lifestyle factors, including younger age, female sex, higher body mass index, more depression, stress at home, and less participation in regular exercise, with consistently stronger effects for migraine than for TTH. Migraine in one twin was significantly associated with TTH in the other twin. A stronger cross-trait, cross-twin association in MZ than DZ twins suggested that this comorbidity may also be partly due to shared genetic factors, although the difference in associations was not significant. In conclusion, our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that migraine and TTH have partly shared etiologies. For both treatment and research, it may be advisable not to make a rigid distinction, but to treat migraine and TTH as related conditions.
In 2009, the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) for major depressive disorder (MDD) highlighted an association with PCLO locus on chromosome 7, although not reaching genome-wide significance level. In the present study, we revisited the original GWAS after increasing the overall sample size and the number of interrogated SNPs. In an analysis comparing 1,942 cases with lifetime diagnosis of MDD and 4,565 controls, PCLO showed a genome-wide significant association with MDD at SNP (rs2715157, p = 2.91 × 10−8) and gene-based (p = 1.48 × 10−7) level. Our results confirm the potential role of the PCLO gene in MDD, which is worth further replication and functional studies.
Aggressive behavior is highly heritable, while environmental influences, particularly early in life, are also important. Epigenetic mechanisms, such as DNA methylation, regulate gene expression throughout development and adulthood, and may mediate genetic and environmental effects on complex traits. We performed an epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) to identify regions in the genome where DNA methylation level is associated with aggressive behavior. Subjects took part in longitudinal survey studies from the Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) and participated in the NTR biobank project between 2004 and 2011 (N = 2,029, mean age at blood sampling = 36.4 years, SD = 12.4, females = 69.2%). Aggressive behavior was rated with the ASEBA Adult Self-Report (ASR). DNA methylation was measured in whole blood by the Illumina HM450k array. The association between aggressive behavior and DNA methylation level at 411,169 autosomal sites was tested. Association analyses in the entire cohort showed top sites at cg01792876 (chr8; 116,684,801, nearest gene = TRPS1, p = 7.6 × 10−7, False discovery rate (FDR) = 0.18) and cg06092953 (chr18; 77,905,699, nearest gene = PARD6G-AS1, p = 9.0 ×10−7, FDR = 0.18). Next, we compared methylation levels in 20 pairs of monozygotic (MZ) twins highly discordant for aggression. Here the top sites were cg21557159 (chr 11; 107,795,699, nearest gene = RAB39, p = 5.7 × 10−6, FDR = 0.99), cg08648367 (chr 19; 51,925,472, nearest gene = SIGLEC10, p = 7.6 × 10−6, FDR = 0.99), and cg14212412 (chr 6; 105,918,992, nearest gene = PREP, p = 8.0 × 10−6, FDR = 0.99). The two top hits based on the entire cohort showed the same direction of effect in discordant MZ pairs (cg01792876, Pdiscordant twins = 0.09 and cg06092953, Pdiscordant twins = 0.24). The other way around, two of the three most significant sites in discordant MZ pairs showed the same direction of effect in the entire cohort (cg08648367, Pentire EWAS = 0.59 and cg14212412, Pentire EWAS = 3.1 × 10−3). Gene ontology analysis highlighted significant enrichment of various central nervous system categories among higher-ranking methylation sites. Higher-ranking methylation sites also showed enrichment for DNase I hypersensitive sites and promoter regions, showing that DNA methylation in peripheral tissues is likely to be associated with aggressive behavior.
Over the past 25 years, the Adult Netherlands Twin Register (ANTR) has collected a wealth of information on physical and mental health, lifestyle, and personality in adolescents and adults. This article provides an overview of the sources of information available, the main research findings, and an outlook for the future. Between 1991 and 2012, longitudinal surveys were completed by twins, their parents, siblings, spouses, and offspring. Data are available for 33,957 participants, with most individuals having completed two or more surveys. Smaller projects provided in-depth phenotyping, including measurements of the autonomic nervous system, neurocognitive function, and brain imaging. For 46% of the ANTR participants, DNA samples are available and whole genome scans have been obtained in more than 11,000 individuals. These data have resulted in numerous studies on heritability, gene x environment interactions, and causality, as well as gene finding studies. In the future, these studies will continue with collection of additional phenotypes, such as metabolomic and telomere length data, and detailed genetic information provided by DNA and RNA sequencing. Record linkage to national registers will allow the study of morbidity and mortality, thus providing insight into the development of health, lifestyle, and behavior across the lifespan.
Comorbidity — the clustered occurrence of two traits or disorders — may be studied in genetically informative designs such as the classical twin study, to test whether genetic and/or environmental factors underlying the two disorders are correlated. When a genetic correlation is found, this can be explained by several mechanisms, including pleiotropy (the same genes influencing multiple traits), and causality (one trait causing the other). With a cotwin control design, it can be investigated which scenario is most plausible. In this design, monozygotic twin pairs discordant for the first trait (i.e., one twin is affected, the other is not) are compared in terms of their risk for the second trait: under a causal model, only the twins affected for the first trait will be at increased risk for the second trait. Under genetic pleiotropy, this risk will be increased in both twins because they share the same risk genes. We first discuss the cotwin control design and then illustrate its application with data on migraine and neuroticism that were collected in 5,200 Dutch twins, including 1,648 complete twin pairs (981 monozygotic and 667 dizygotic pairs). There was a significant association between migraine and neuroticism, which could be attributed to genetic and environmental correlations (rG = .27 and rE = .19). In monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs discordant for neuroticism, the risk of migraine was significantly higher in the twins with a high neuroticism score. This pattern of results is consistent with a causal relationship, suggesting that neuroticism increases the risk of migraine.
It is often debated whether migraine with aura (MA) and migraine without aura (MO) are etiologically distinct disorders. A previous study using latent class analysis (LCA) in Australian twins showed no evidence for separate subtypes of MO and MA. The aim of the present study was to replicate these results in a population of Dutch twins and their parents, siblings and partners (N = 10,144). Latent class analysis of International Headache Society (IHS)-based migraine symptoms resulted in the identification of 4 classes: a class of unaffected subjects (class 0), a mild form of nonmigrainous headache (class 1), a moderately severe type of migraine (class 2), typically without neurological symptoms or aura (8% reporting aura symptoms), and a severe type of migraine (class 3), typically with neurological symptoms, and aura symptoms in approximately half of the cases. Given the overlap of neurological symptoms and nonmutual exclusivity of aura symptoms, these results do not support the MO and MA subtypes as being etiologically distinct. The heritability in female twins of migraine based on LCA classification was estimated at .50 (95% confidence intervals [CI] .27 – .59), similar to IHS-based migraine diagnosis (h2 = .49, 95% CI .19–.57). However, using a dichotomous classification (affected–unaffected) decreased heritability for the IHS-based classification (h2 = .33, 95% CI .00–.60), but not the LCA-based classification (h2 = .51, 95% CI .23–.61). Importantly, use of the LCA-based classification increased the number of subjects classified as affected. The heritability of the screening question was similar to more detailed LCA and IHS classifications, suggesting that the screening procedure is an important determining factor in genetic studies of migraine.
Boys and girls may display different styles of aggression. The aim of this study was to identify subtypes of aggression within the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) aggression scale, and determine their characteristics for both sexes. Maternal CBCL ratings of 7449 7-year-old twin pairs were analyzed using principal components analyses to identify sub- types of aggression, and structural equation modeling to carry out genetic analyses. Two aggression subtypes were identified: relational and direct aggression. The correlation between these subtypes was .58 for boys and .47 for girls. Boys had higher mean scores for both subtypes of aggression, but sex differences were largest for direct aggression. For relational aggression, 66% of the variance was due to additive genetic influences, 16% to shared environment and 18% to nonshared environment. For direct aggression, additive genetic effects accounted for 53% of the variance in males and 60% in females, shared environment explained 23% of the variance in males and 13% in females, and nonshared environmental effects explained 24% of the variance in males and 27% in females. Covariance between the aggression subtypes was mostly accounted for by additive genetic (55% for boys, 58% for girls) and shared environmental influences (33% for boys, 30% for girls). Direct and relational aggression were both influenced by one underlying set of shared environmental factors, but only partly by the same genes (the genetic correlation was .54 for boys and .43 for girls). These findings may have implications for how aggressive behavior should be assessed in boys and girls.
The effect of nonresponse on health and lifestyle measures has received extensive study, showing at most relatively modest effects. Nonresponse bias with respect to personality has been less thoroughly investigated. The present study uses data from responding individuals as a proxy for the missing data of their nonresponding family members to examine the presence of nonresponse bias for personality traits and disorders as well as health and lifestyle traits. We looked at the Big Five personality traits, borderline personality disorder (BPD) features, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Anger, and several measures of health (Body Mass Index, migraine) and lifestyle (smoking, alcohol use). In general, outcomes tend to be slightly more favorable for individuals from highly cooperative families compared to individuals from less cooperative families. The only significant difference was found for BPD features (p = .001). However, the absolute difference in mean scores is very small, less than 1 point for a scale ranging from 0 to 72. In conclusion, survey data on personality, health and lifestyle are relatively unbiased with respect to nonresponse.
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