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In this prospective study of mental health, we examine the influence of three interrelated traits — perceived stress, rumination, and daytime sleepiness — and their association with symptoms of anxiety and depression in early adolescence. Given the known associations between these traits, an important objective is to determine the extent to which they may independently predict anxiety/depression symptoms. Twin pairs from the Queensland Twin Adolescent Brain (QTAB) project were assessed on two occasions (N = 211 pairs aged 9−14 years at baseline and 152 pairs aged 10−16 years at follow-up). Linear regression models and quantitative genetic modeling were used to analyze the data. Prospectively, perceived stress, rumination, and daytime sleepiness accounted for 8−11% of the variation in later anxiety/depression; familial influences contributed strongly to these associations. However, only perceived stress significantly predicted change in anxiety/depression, accounting for 3% of variance at follow-up after adjusting for anxiety/depression at baseline, although it did not do so independently of rumination and daytime sleepiness. Bidirectional effects were found between all traits over time. These findings suggest an underlying architecture that is shared, to some degree, by all traits, while the literature points to hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and/or circadian systems as potential sources of overlapping influence and possible avenues for intervention.
The hippocampus is a complex brain structure with key roles in cognitive and emotional processing and with subregion abnormalities associated with a range of disorders and psychopathologies. Here we combine data from two large independent young adult twin/sibling cohorts to obtain the most accurate estimates to date of genetic covariation between hippocampal subfield volumes and the hippocampus as a single volume. The combined sample included 2148 individuals, comprising 1073 individuals from 627 families (mean age = 22.3 years) from the Queensland Twin IMaging (QTIM) Study, and 1075 individuals from 454 families (mean age = 28.8 years) from the Human Connectome Project (HCP). Hippocampal subfields were segmented using FreeSurfer version 6.0 (CA4 and dentate gyrus were phenotypically and genetically indistinguishable and were summed to a single volume). Multivariate twin modeling was conducted in OpenMx to decompose variance into genetic and environmental sources. Bivariate analyses of hippocampal formation and each subfield volume showed that 10%–72% of subfield genetic variance was independent of the hippocampal formation, with greatest specificity found for the smaller volumes; for example, CA2/3 with 42% of genetic variance being independent of the hippocampus; fissure (63%); fimbria (72%); hippocampus-amygdala transition area (41%); parasubiculum (62%). In terms of genetic influence, whole hippocampal volume is a good proxy for the largest hippocampal subfields, but a poor substitute for the smaller subfields. Additive genetic sources accounted for 49%–77% of total variance for each of the subfields in the combined sample multivariate analysis. In addition, the multivariate analyses were sufficiently powered to identify common environmental influences (replicated in QTIM and HCP for the molecular layer and CA4/dentate gyrus, and accounting for 7%–16% of total variance for 8 of 10 subfields in the combined sample). This provides the clearest indication yet from a twin study that factors such as home environment may influence hippocampal volumes (albeit, with caveats).
We recently reported an association of offspring educational attainment with polygenic risk scores (PRS) computed on parent’s non-transmitted alleles for educational attainment using the second GWAS meta-analysis article on educational attainment published by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium. Here we test the replication of these findings using a more powerful PRS from the third GWAS meta-analysis article by the Consortium. Each of the key findings of our previous paper is replicated using this improved PRS (N = 2335 adolescent twins and their genotyped parents). The association of children’s attainment with their own PRS increased substantially with the standardized effect size, moving from β = 0.134, 95% CI = 0.079, 0.188 for EA2, to β = 0.223, 95% CI = 0.169, 0.278, p < .001, for EA3. Parent’s PRS again predicted the socioeconomic status (SES) they provided to their offspring and increased from β = 0.201, 95% CI = 0.147, 0.256 to β = 0.286, 95% CI = 0.239, 0.333. Importantly, the PRS for alleles not transmitted to their offspring — therefore acting via the parenting environment — was increased in effect size from β = 0.058, 95% CI = 0.003, 0.114 to β = 0.067, 95% CI = 0.012, 0.122, p = .016. As previously found, this non-transmitted genetic effect was fully accounted for by parental SES. The findings reinforce the conclusion that genetic effects of parenting are substantial, explain approximately one-third the magnitude of an individual’s own genetic inheritance and are mediated by parental socioeconomic competence.
Research on environmental and genetic pathways to complex traits such as educational attainment (EA) is confounded by uncertainty over whether correlations reflect effects of transmitted parental genes, causal family environments, or some, possibly interactive, mixture of both. Thus, an aggregate of thousands of alleles associated with EA (a polygenic risk score; PRS) may tap parental behaviors and home environments promoting EA in the offspring. New methods for unpicking and determining these causal pathways are required. Here, we utilize the fact that parents pass, at random, 50% of their genome to a given offspring to create independent scores for the transmitted alleles (conventional EA PRS) and a parental score based on alleles not transmitted to the offspring (EA VP_PRS). The formal effect of non-transmitted alleles on offspring attainment was tested in 2,333 genotyped twins for whom high-quality measures of EA, assessed at age 17 years, were available, and whose parents were also genotyped. Four key findings were observed. First, the EA PRS and EA VP_PRS were empirically independent, validating the virtual-parent design. Second, in this family-based design, children's own EA PRS significantly predicted their EA (β = 0.15), ruling out stratification confounds as a cause of the association of attainment with the EA PRS. Third, parental EA PRS predicted the SES environment parents provided to offspring (β = 0.20), and parental SES and offspring EA were significantly associated (β = 0.33). This would suggest that the EA PRS is at least as strongly linked to social competence as it is to EA, leading to higher attained SES in parents and, therefore, a higher experienced SES for children. In a full structural equation model taking account of family genetic relatedness across multiple siblings the non-transmitted allele effects were estimated at similar values; but, in this more complex model, confidence intervals included zero. A test using the forthcoming EA3 PRS may clarify this outcome. The virtual-parent method may be applied to clarify causality in other phenotypes where observational evidence suggests parenting may moderate expression of other outcomes, for instance in psychiatry.
Measuring cortisol in hair is a promising method to assess long-term alterations of the biological stress response system, and hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) may be altered in psychiatric disorders and in subjects suffering from chronic stress. However, the pattern of associations between HCC, chronic stress and mental health require clarification. Our exploratory study: (1) assessed the association between HCC and perceived stress, symptoms of depression and neuroticism, and the trait extraversion (as a control variable); and (2) made use of the twin design to estimate the genetic and environmental covariance between the variables of interest. Hair samples from 109 (74 female) subjects (age range 12–21 years, mean 15.1) including 8 monozygotic (MZ) and 21 dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs were analyzed. Perceived stress was measured with the Perceived Stress Scale and/or the Daily Life and Stressors Scale, neuroticism, and extraversion with the NEO-Five Factor Inventory or the Junior Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, and depressive symptoms with the Somatic and Psychological Health Report. We found a modest positive association between HCC and the three risk factors — perceived stress, symptoms of depression, and neuroticism (r = 0.22–0.33) — but no correlation with extraversion (-0.06). A median split revealed that the associations between HCC and risk factors were stronger (0.47–0.60) in those subjects with HCC >11.36 pg/mg. Furthermore, our results suggest that the genetic effects underlying HCC are largely shared with those that influence perceived stress, depressive symptoms, and neuroticism. These results of our proof of principle study warrant replication in a bigger sample but raise the interesting question of the direction of causation between these variables.
Persistent tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption are major public health concerns worldwide. Both alcohol and nicotine dependence (AD, ND) are genetically influenced complex disorders that exhibit a high degree of comorbidity. To identify gene variants contributing to one or both of these addictions, we first conducted a pooling-based genomewide association study (GWAS) in an Australian population, using Illumina Infinium 1M arrays. Allele frequency differences were compared between pooled DNA from case and control groups for: (1) AD, 1224 cases and 1162 controls; (2) ND, 1273 cases and 1113 controls; and (3) comorbid AD and ND, 599 cases and 488 controls. Secondly, we carried out a GWAS in independent samples from the Netherlands for AD and for ND. Thirdly, we performed a meta-analysis of the 10, 000 most significant AD- and ND-related SNPs from the Australian and Dutch samples. In the Australian GWAS, one SNP achieved genomewide significance (p < 5 x 10-8) for ND (rs964170 in ARHGAPlOon chromosome 4, p = 4.43 x 10”8) and three others for comorbid AD/ND (rs7530302 near MARK1 on chromosome 1 (p = 1.90 x 10-9), rs1784300 near DDX6 on chromosome 11 (p = 2.60 x 10-9) and rs12882384 in KIAA1409 on chromosome 14 (p = 4.86 x 10-8)). None of the SNPs achieved genomewide significance in the Australian/Dutch meta-analysis, but a gene network diagram based on the top-results revealed overrepre-sentation of genes coding for ion-channels and cell adhesion molecules. Further studies will be requirec before the detailed causes of comorbidity between AC and ND are understood.
Shorter telomere length (TL) has found to be associated with lower birth weight and with lower cognitive ability and psychiatric disorders. However, the direction of causation of these associations and the extent to which they are genetically or environmentally mediated are unclear. Within-pair comparisons of monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins can throw light on these questions. We investigated correlations of within pair differences in telomere length, IQ, and anxiety/depression in an initial sample from Brisbane (242 MZ pairs, 245 DZ same sex (DZSS) pairs) and in replication samples from Amsterdam (514 MZ pairs, 233 DZSS pairs) and Melbourne (19 pairs selected for extreme high or low birth weight difference). Intra-pair differences of birth weight and telomere length were significantly correlated in MZ twins, but not in DZSS twins. Greater intra-pair differences of telomere length were observed in the 10% of MZ twins with the greatest difference in birth weight compared to the bottom 90% in both samples and also in the Melbourne sample. Intra-pair differences of telomere length and IQ, but not of TL and anxiety/depression, were correlated in MZ twins, and to a smaller extent in DZSS twins. Our findings suggest that the same prenatal effects that reduce birth weight also influence telomere length in MZ twins. The association between telomere length and IQ is partly driven by the same prenatal effects that decrease birth weight.
Cytokines and vitamin D both have a role in modulating the immune system, and are also potentially useful biomarkers in mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder (MDD) and schizophrenia. Studying the variability of cytokines and vitamin D in a healthy population sample may add to understanding the association between these biomarkers and mental illness. To assess genetic and environmental contributions to variation in circulating levels of cytokines and vitamin D (25-hydroxy vitamin D: 25(OH)D3), we analyzed data from a healthy adolescent twin cohort (mean age 16.2 years; standard deviation 0.25). Plasma cytokine measures were available for 400 individuals (85 MZ, 115 DZ pairs), dried blood spot sample vitamin D measures were available for 378 individuals (70 MZ, 118 DZ pairs). Heritability estimates were moderate but significant for the cytokines transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1), 0.57 (95% CI 0.26–0.80) and tumor necrosis factor-receptor type 1 (TNFR1), 0.50 (95% CI 0.11–0.63) respectively. Measures of 25(OH)D3 were within normal range and heritability was estimated to be high (0.86, 95% CI 0.61–0.94). Assays of other cytokines did not generate meaningful results. These potential biomarkers may be useful in mental illness, with further research warranted in larger sample sizes. They may be particularly important in adolescents with mental illness where diagnostic uncertainty poses a significant clinical challenge.
We examined the genetic architecture of functional brain connectivity measures in resting state electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings. Previous studies in Dutch twins have suggested that genetic factors are a main source of variance in functional brain connectivity derived from EEG recordings. In addition, qualitative descriptors of the brain network derived from graph analysis — network clustering and average path length — are also heritable traits. Here we replicated previous findings for connectivity, quantified by the synchronization likelihood, and the graph theoretical parameters cluster coefficient and path length in an Australian sample of 16-year-old twins (879) and their siblings (93). Modeling of monozygotic and dizygotic twins and sibling resemblance indicated heritability estimates of the synchronization likelihood (27–74%) and cluster coefficient and path length in the alpha and theta band (40–44% and 23–40% respectively) and path length in the beta band frequency (41%). This corroborates synchronization likelihood and its graph theoretical derivatives cluster coefficient and path length as potential endophenotypes for behavioral traits and neurological disorders.
The development of late-onset Alzheimer's disease (LOAD) is under strong genetic control and there is great interest in the genetic variants that confer increased risk. The Alzheimer's disease risk gene, growth factor receptor bound protein 2-associated protein (GAB2), has been shown to provide a 1.27–1.51 increased odds of developing LOAD for rs7101429 major allele carriers, in case-control analysis. GAB2 is expressed across the brain throughout life, and its role in LOAD pathology is well understood. Recent studies have begun to examine the effect of genetic variation in the GAB2 gene on differences in the brain. However, the effect of GAB2 on the young adult brain has yet to be considered. Here we found a significant association between the GAB2 gene and morphological brain differences in 755 young adult twins (469 females) (M = 23.1, SD = 3.1 years), using a gene-based test with principal components regression (PCReg). Detectable differences in brain morphology are therefore associated with variation in the GAB2 gene, even in young adults, long before the typical age of onset of Alzheimer's disease.
There has been almost no overlap between behavior genetics and consumer behavior research, despite each field's importance in understanding society. In particular, both have neglected to study genetic influences on consumer adoption and usage of new technologies — even technologies as important as the mobile phone, now used by 5.8 out of 7.0 billion people on earth. To start filling this gap, we analyzed self-reported mobile phone use, intelligence, and personality traits in two samples of Australian teenaged twins (mean ages 14.2 and 15.6 years), totaling 1,036 individuals. ACE modeling using Mx software showed substantial heritabilities for how often teens make voice calls (.60 and .34 in samples 1 and 2, respectively) and for how often they send text messages (.53 and. 50). Shared family environment – including neighborhood, social class, parental education, and parental income (i.e., the generosity of calling plans that parents can afford for their teens) — had much weaker effects. Multivariate modeling based on cross-twin, cross-trait correlations showed negative genetic correlations between talking/texting frequency and intelligence (around –.17), and positive genetic correlations between talking/texting frequency and extraversion (about .20 to .40). Our results have implications for assessing the risks of mobile phone use such as radiofrequency field (RF) exposure and driving accidents, for studying adoption and use of other emerging technologies, for understanding the genetic architecture of the cognitive and personality traits that predict consumer behavior, and for challenging the common assumption that consumer behavior is shaped entirely by culture, media, and family environment.
We assessed the heritability of head circumference, an approximation of brain size, in twin-sib families of different ages. Data from the youngest participants were collected a few weeks after birth and from the oldest participants around age 50 years. In nearly all age groups the largest part of the variation in head circumference was explained by genetic differences. Heritability estimates were 90% in young infants (4 to 5 months), 85–88% in early childhood, 83–87% in adolescence, 75% in young and mid adulthood. In infants younger than 3 months, heritability was very low or absent. Quantitative sex differences in heritability were observed in 15- and 18-year-olds, but there was no evidence for qualitative sex differences, that is, the same genes were expressed in both males and females. Longitudinal analysis of the data between 5, 7, and 18 years of age showed high genetic stability (.78 > RG > .98). These results indicate that head circumference is a highly heritable biometric trait and a valid target for future GWA studies.
Arange of environmental risk factors, with childbirth the most notable, have been associated with the development of pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence. However, indications of genetic influence (positive family histories, ethnic differences) have prompted research into the heritability of measures of pelvic organ descent and joint mobility, which have also been associated with prolapse and incontinence. Genes appear to influence about half of the variation in these measures and, furthermore, the pelvic organ measures are associated with elbow hyperextension at a phenotypic level (r ≈ .2). We examined these measures in young, nulligravid women to determine if their association is due to a common genetic source. Data were collected from 178 Caucasian female co-twins and non-twin sisters, 50 of whom returned to be retested, which allowed reliability to be estimated and unreliable variance to be isolated in the multivariate analyses. Structural equation modeling was used to estimate genetic associations between latent elbow and bladder mobility factors for which heritabilities were estimated to be 0.80 and 0.64 respectively. The association between these factors appeared to be mediated by common genes (genetic r =.48, non-shared environmental r = −.06), with genes influencing latent elbow mobility accounting for 14% of the variation in latent bladder mobility. We speculate that genes influencing connective tissue structure may underlie this association.
Alcohol dependence symptoms and consumption measures were examined for stability and heritability. Data were collected from 12,045 individuals (5376 twin pairs, 1293 single twins) aged 19 to 90 years in telephone interviews conducted in three collection phases. Phases 1 and 2 were independent samples, but Phase 3 targeted families of smokers and drinkers from the Phase 1 and 2 samples. The stability of dependence symptoms and consumption was examined for 1158 individuals interviewed in both Phases 1 and 3 (mean interval = 11.0 years). For 1818 individuals interviewed in Phases 2 and 3 (mean interval = 5.5 years) the stability of consumption was examined. Heritability was examined for each collection phase and retest samples from the selected Phase 3 collection. The measures examined were a dependence score, based on DSM-IIIR and DSM-IV criteria for substance dependence, and a quantity × frequency measure. Measures were moderately stable, with test–retest correlations ranging from .58 to .61 for dependence and from .55 to .64 for consumption. However, the pattern of changes over time for dependence suggested that the measure may more strongly reflect recent than lifetime experience. Similar to previous findings, heritabilities ranged from .42 to .51 for dependence and from .31 to .51 for consumption. Consumption was significantly less heritable in the younger Phase 2 cohort (23–39 years) compared to the older Phase 1 cohort (28–90 years).
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