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No previous research explored the genetic and environmental structure of Big Five dimensions of personality and higher-order factors in a single twin study, except, in part, for just one study. We used the twin design to estimate the effects of genes and environment on both Five Factor model and related second- and third-order factors (i.e., Alpha [stability], Beta [plasticity], and GFP [general factor of personality]). We analyzed data from 314 adult twins (157 pairs: 83 monozygotic, 74 dizygotic; mean age: 52 years) enrolled in the Italian Twin Register. Participants underwent clinical and instrumental evaluations, and completed a 25-adjective list drawn from the Short Adjectives Checklist to Measure Big Five (SACBIF). We applied quantitative genetic models to unravel the sources of variation and covariation for the Big Five and higher-order factors. We found a similar etiological architecture across the different levels of analysis, with moderate to substantial non-additive genetic and unique environmental influences on all the personality traits, and no shared environmental contribution for any of them. We also detected significant genetic correlations for the Big Five dimensions and the Alpha and Beta super-factors. With some limitations, our results suggest that the etiological architecture of personality may be invariant to the factor level of analysis.
The Italian Twin Registry (ITR), established in 2001, is a population-based registry of voluntary twins. To date, it consists of approximately 29,000 twins who gave their consent to participate in the studies proposed by the ITR research group. The database comprises 11,500 monozygotic and 16,700 dizygotic twins resident throughout the country and belonging to a wide age range (from 0 to 95 years, mean 36.8 years). This article provides an overview of the recruitment strategies along with the major phenotypes investigated during an 18 years’ research period. Over the years, several self-reported questionnaire data were collected, together with saliva/blood samples and measurements taken during in-person interviews or outpatient clinical examinations. Mental and behavioral phenotypes as well as atherosclerotic traits were studied in depth across different age groups. A birth cohort of twins was established and followed up. Novel research hypotheses are also being tested in ongoing projects. The ITR is involved in international studies in collaboration with other twin registries and represents a valuable resource for national and international research initiatives regarding a broad spectrum of health-related characteristics.
Empathy plays a central role in prosocial behavior and human cooperation. Very few twin researchers have investigated innate and environmental effects in adult empathy, and twin research on gender differences in these effects is sparse. The goal of this study was to examine innate and environmental influences on three components of an empathy scale frequently used with adults — the expression of cognitive (CE), emotional (EE), and social skills (SS) empathy — and to explore gender differences in the influences. Study participants were ~1,700 twins (18–65 years) enrolled in the Italian Twin Registry. Empathy was assessed with the Italian version of the Empathy Quotient (EQ), for which the three-factor structure (i.e., CE, EE, and SS) was confirmed. Twin correlations in monozygotic and dizygotic pairs, and males and females were estimated for the total EQ and subscale scores, and univariate genetic model fitting was carried out. Women's empathy (i.e., total EQ as well as CE and EE subdimensions) was predominantly driven by genetic factors and individual experiences, whereas for males, no genetic contribution or important shared and individual environmental effects emerged. Although of large magnitude, the gender differences did not reach statistical significance. Age did not moderate empathy heritability in adulthood. Only for the SS subscale were genetic and environmental proportions of variance similar for men and women. This study suggests possible gender-specific innate and environmental influences on empathy and its cognitive and emotional components that need to be confirmed in future studies.
Whether monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins differ from each other in a variety of phenotypes is important for genetic twin modeling and for inferences made from twin studies in general. We analyzed whether there were differences in individual, maternal and paternal education between MZ and DZ twins in a large pooled dataset. Information was gathered on individual education for 218,362 adult twins from 27 twin cohorts (53% females; 39% MZ twins), and on maternal and paternal education for 147,315 and 143,056 twins respectively, from 28 twin cohorts (52% females; 38% MZ twins). Together, we had information on individual or parental education from 42 twin cohorts representing 19 countries. The original education classifications were transformed to education years and analyzed using linear regression models. Overall, MZ males had 0.26 (95% CI [0.21, 0.31]) years and MZ females 0.17 (95% CI [0.12, 0.21]) years longer education than DZ twins. The zygosity difference became smaller in more recent birth cohorts for both males and females. Parental education was somewhat longer for fathers of DZ twins in cohorts born in 1990–1999 (0.16 years, 95% CI [0.08, 0.25]) and 2000 or later (0.11 years, 95% CI [0.00, 0.22]), compared with fathers of MZ twins. The results show that the years of both individual and parental education are largely similar in MZ and DZ twins. We suggest that the socio-economic differences between MZ and DZ twins are so small that inferences based upon genetic modeling of twin data are not affected.
A trend toward greater body size in dizygotic (DZ) than in monozygotic (MZ) twins has been suggested by some but not all studies, and this difference may also vary by age. We analyzed zygosity differences in mean values and variances of height and body mass index (BMI) among male and female twins from infancy to old age. Data were derived from an international database of 54 twin cohorts participating in the COllaborative project of Development of Anthropometrical measures in Twins (CODATwins), and included 842,951 height and BMI measurements from twins aged 1 to 102 years. The results showed that DZ twins were consistently taller than MZ twins, with differences of up to 2.0 cm in childhood and adolescence and up to 0.9 cm in adulthood. Similarly, a greater mean BMI of up to 0.3 kg/m2 in childhood and adolescence and up to 0.2 kg/m2 in adulthood was observed in DZ twins, although the pattern was less consistent. DZ twins presented up to 1.7% greater height and 1.9% greater BMI than MZ twins; these percentage differences were largest in middle and late childhood and decreased with age in both sexes. The variance of height was similar in MZ and DZ twins at most ages. In contrast, the variance of BMI was significantly higher in DZ than in MZ twins, particularly in childhood. In conclusion, DZ twins were generally taller and had greater BMI than MZ twins, but the differences decreased with age in both sexes.
For over 100 years, the genetics of human anthropometric traits has attracted scientific interest. In particular, height and body mass index (BMI, calculated as kg/m2) have been under intensive genetic research. However, it is still largely unknown whether and how heritability estimates vary between human populations. Opportunities to address this question have increased recently because of the establishment of many new twin cohorts and the increasing accumulation of data in established twin cohorts. We started a new research project to analyze systematically (1) the variation of heritability estimates of height, BMI and their trajectories over the life course between birth cohorts, ethnicities and countries, and (2) to study the effects of birth-related factors, education and smoking on these anthropometric traits and whether these effects vary between twin cohorts. We identified 67 twin projects, including both monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins, using various sources. We asked for individual level data on height and weight including repeated measurements, birth related traits, background variables, education and smoking. By the end of 2014, 48 projects participated. Together, we have 893,458 height and weight measures (52% females) from 434,723 twin individuals, including 201,192 complete twin pairs (40% monozygotic, 40% same-sex dizygotic and 20% opposite-sex dizygotic) representing 22 countries. This project demonstrates that large-scale international twin studies are feasible and can promote the use of existing data for novel research purposes.
The Italian Twin Register has been in place for more than 10 years. Since its establishment, it has been focusing, on the one hand, on a continuous update of the existing information, and on the other hand, on new phenotypes and sample collection. Demographic data on about 140,000 twins have been updated using the municipality registries. The Italian Twin Register has been carrying out several new studies during the last few years. A birth cohort of twins, Multiple Births Cohort Study, has been started and the enrolment is ongoing. For this cohort, data on pregnancy and birth are collected, and periodical follow-ups are made. DNA is being collected for the twins and their parents. In the area of behavioral genetics, most efforts have been directed to psychological well being assessed with self-reported tools. Research on age-related traits continues with studies on arteriosclerosis development, early biomarkers in mild cognitive impairment, and the relation between lifestyle habits and mutagen sensitivity. The Italian Twin Register biobanking has grown in its size and in its know-how in terms of both technical issues and ethical procedures implementation. Furthermore, attitudes toward biobank-based research, together with willingness and motivation for donation, are being investigated. A valuable key resource for the Italian Twin Register is the possibility of linking twin data with disease registries. This approach has been yielding several important results, such as the recent study on the heritability of type 1 diabetes.
A number of studies have provided evidence of a significant familial aggregation for both asthma and hay fever, and have reported a substantial comorbidity between the two conditions. However, far fewer, especially in Italy, have aimed at clarifying the origins of such comorbidity. The main aims of the present study were (a) to estimate heritability of asthma and hay fever, (b) to measure the association between asthma and hay fever at the individual level, and (c) to assess the extent to which genetic and environmental factors, shared by the two conditions, mediate this association. The twin method was used. The study sample was derived from the Italian Twin Registry, and included 392 twin pairs aged 8 to 17 years. Data collection was performed through parent self-administered questionnaire. Bivariate structural equation twin modeling was applied to asthma and hay fever. Genetic factors accounted for 92% and 78% of the variance in liability to asthma and hay fever, respectively, with the remaining contributions due to unique environmental influences. The within-individual association between asthma and hay fever was substantial. The genetic correlation between the two conditions was .58, whereas no evidence of overlapping unique environmental effects was found. In conclusion, this study showed a high heritability of asthma and hay fever in the Italian child and adolescent population. It also indicated that asthma and hay fever share, to a large extent, a common genetic background, and environmental factors are not relevant to explain the comorbidity.
The unique opportunity given by the “fiscal code”, an alphanumeric identification with demographic information on any single person residing in Italy, introduced in 1976 by the Ministry of Finance, allowed a database of all potential Italian twins to be created. This database contains up to now name, surname, date and place of birth and home address of about 1,300,000 “possible twins”. Even thought we estimated an excess of 40% of pseudo-twins, this still is the world's largest twin population ever collected. The database of possible twins is currently used in population-based studies on multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, celiac disease, and type 1 diabetes. A system is currently being developed for linking the database with data from mortality and cancer registries. In 2001, the Italian Government, through the Ministry of Health, financed a broad national research program on twin studies, including the establishment of a national twin registry. Among all the possible twins, a sample of 500,000 individuals are going to be contacted and we expect to enrol around 120,000 real twin pairs in a formal Twin Registry. According to available financial resources, a sub sample of the enrolled population will be asked to donate DNA. A biological bank from twins will be then implemented, guaranteeing information on future etiological questions regarding genetic and modifiable factors for physical impairment and disability, cancers, cardiovascular diseases and other age related chronic illnesses.
Previous twin studies have indicated that approximately 25% of the variation in life span can be attributed to genetic factors and recent studies have also suggested a moderate clustering of extreme longevity within families. Here we discuss various definitions of extreme longevity and some analytical approaches with special attention to the challenges due to censored data. Lexis diagrams are provided for the Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish Twin registries hereby outlining possibilities for longevity studies within GenomEUtwin. We extend previous analyses of lifespan for the Danish 1870–1900 twin cohorts to include the new 1901–1910 cohorts, which are consistent with the previous findings. The size of the twin cohorts in GenomEUtwin and the existence of population-based, nationwide health and death registers make epidemiological studies of longevity very powerful. The combined GenomEUtwin sample will also allow detailed age-specific heritability analyses of lifespan. Finally, it will provide a resource for identifying unusual sibships (i.e., dizygotic twin pairs) where both survived to extreme ages, as a basis for discovering genetic variants of importance for extreme survival.
Amajor component of variation in body height is due to genetic differences, but environmental factors have a substantial contributory effect. In this study we aimed to analyse whether the genetic architecture of body height varies between affluent western societies. We analysed twin data from eight countries comprising 30,111 complete twin pairs by using the univariate genetic model of the Mx statistical package. Body height and zygosity were self-reported in seven populations and measured directly in one population. We found that there was substantial variation in mean body height between countries; body height was least in Italy (177 cm in men and 163 cm in women) and greatest in the Netherlands (184 cm and 171 cm, respectively). In men there was no corresponding variation in heritability of body height, heritability estimates ranging from 0.87 to 0.93 in populations under an additive genes/unique environment (AE) model. Among women the heritability estimates were generally lower than among men with greater variation between countries, ranging from 0.68 to 0.84 when an additive genes/shared environment/unique environment (ACE) model was used. In four populations where an AE model fit equally well or better, heritability ranged from 0.89 to 0.93. This difference between the sexes was mainly due to the effect of the shared environmental component of variance, which appears to be more important among women than among men in our study populations. Our results indicate that, in general, there are only minor differences in the genetic architecture of height between affluent Caucasian populations, especially among men.
Since its start as a database of ‘possible twins’, the Italian Twin Register has developed remarkably in terms of twin approach and recruitment, data-management tools, the cohorts enrolled, and the breadth of information gathered, making the Italian Twin Register a valuable resource for genetic epidemiological research. The Italian Twin Register is a random population of twins at both the national level and within targeted geographical areas or birth cohorts. Further, the Register is linked with disease records and has recently implemented a web-based method for volunteer twin recruitment specifically designed to promote the Register and to disseminate information on genetic epidemiology. To date, approximately 9000 twins have joined the Italian Twin Register, the majority of whom (approximately 70%) represent young adults aged 20 at time of enrolment. Although the total number of twins recruited to date is far below the expected figure initially predicted, the newly established standardized procedures guarantee an increase of around 2000 twins each year. Following the collaboration between the Italian Twin Register and the main Italian nonprofit association for blood donors, twin DNA sampling and storage has recently accelerated contributing to the large amount of phenotypic data collected. The Italian Twin Register is currently involved in both population and clinical based studies on various complex pheno-types and diseases, some conducted within large European consortia.
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