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Female fertility is a complex trait with age-specific changes in spontaneous dizygotic (DZ) twinning and fertility. To elucidate factors regulating female fertility and infertility, we conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) on mothers of spontaneous DZ twins (MoDZT) versus controls (3273 cases, 24,009 controls). This is a follow-up study to the Australia/New Zealand (ANZ) component of that previously reported (Mbarek et al., 2016), with a sample size almost twice that of the entire discovery sample meta-analysed in the previous article (and five times the ANZ contribution to that), resulting from newly available additional genotyping and representing a significant increase in power. We compare analyses with and without male controls and show unequivocally that it is better to include male controls who have been screened for recent family history, than to use only female controls. Results from the SNP based GWAS identified four genomewide significant signals, including one novel region, ZFPM1 (Zinc Finger Protein, FOG Family Member 1), on chromosome 16. Previous signals near FSHB (Follicle Stimulating Hormone beta subunit) and SMAD3 (SMAD Family Member 3) were also replicated (Mbarek et al., 2016). We also ran the GWAS with a dominance model that identified a further locus ADRB2 on chr 5. These results have been contributed to the International Twinning Genetics Consortium for inclusion in the next GWAS meta-analysis (Mbarek et al., in press).
The potential relationships between traumatic experiences and the onset and course of major mood disorders have always been controversial. Some experiences, most notably physical or sexual abuse, as well as substantive bullying in childhood, are clearly recognised as major risk factors for a range of mental disorders, as well as a range of linked phenomena including self-harm and suicidal behaviours (McKay et al., 2021; Zatti et al., 2017). There is considerable interest and ongoing research into how these adverse experiences come to be ‘encoded’ via neurobiological or genetic mechanisms that then transmit those effects into later-onset major mental disorders, substance misuse or other self-harming behaviours (Maddox et al., 2019).
The clinical field of depression and other mood disorders is characterised by the vast heterogeneity between those who present for care, and the highly variable degree of response to the range of psychological, pharmacological and physical treatments currently provided. These individual differences likely have a genetic component, and leveraging genetic risk is appealing because genetic risk factors point to causality. The possibility that individual genotyping at entry to health care may be a key way forward is worthy of discussion (Torkamani et al., 2018).
People with schizophrenia die almost 20 years earlier than the general population, most commonly from avertable cardiometabolic disease. Existing pharmacological weight-loss agents including metformin have limited efficacy. Recently available glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) receptor agonists such as semaglutide have shown promise for weight loss but have yet to be trialled in this population.
To examine the efficacy of semaglutide to ameliorate antipsychotic-induced obesity in people with schizophrenia who have been treated with clozapine for more than 18 weeks.
This is a 36-week, double-blinded, randomised placebo-controlled trial. We will recruit 80 clozapine-treated patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, aged 18–64 years, with a baseline body mass index ≥26 kg/m2, who will be randomised to subcutaneous semaglutide of 2.0 mg once a week or placebo for 36 weeks. The primary endpoint will be percentage change in body weight from baseline.
This trial will assess the efficacy and side-effects of the GLP-1 receptor agonist semaglutide on body weight and provide evidence on the possible clinical utility of semaglutide in patients with inadequate response to metformin. The study is registered with the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (www.anzctr.org.au) with clinical trial registration number ACTRN12621001539820.
This research could benefit individuals with schizophrenia who experience significant health issues, leading to premature mortality, owing to antipsychotic-induced weight gain. Study findings will be disseminated through peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations.
Subthreshold/attenuated syndromes are established precursors of full-threshold mood and psychotic disorders. Less is known about the individual symptoms that may precede the development of subthreshold syndromes and associated social/functional outcomes among emerging adults.
We modeled two dynamic Bayesian networks (DBN) to investigate associations among self-rated phenomenology and personal/lifestyle factors (role impairment, low social support, and alcohol and substance use) across the 19Up and 25Up waves of the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study. We examined whether symptoms and personal/lifestyle factors at 19Up were associated with (a) themselves or different items at 25Up, and (b) onset of a depression-like, hypo-manic-like, or psychotic-like subthreshold syndrome (STS) at 25Up.
The first DBN identified 11 items that when endorsed at 19Up were more likely to be reendorsed at 25Up (e.g., hypersomnia, impaired concentration, impaired sleep quality) and seven items that when endorsed at 19Up were associated with different items being endorsed at 25Up (e.g., earlier fatigue and later role impairment; earlier anergia and later somatic pain). In the second DBN, no arcs met our a priori threshold for inclusion. In an exploratory model with no threshold, >20 items at 19Up were associated with progression to an STS at 25Up (with lower statistical confidence); the top five arcs were: feeling threatened by others and a later psychotic-like STS; increased activity and a later hypo-manic-like STS; and anergia, impaired sleep quality, and/or hypersomnia and a later depression-like STS.
These probabilistic models identify symptoms and personal/lifestyle factors that might prove useful targets for indicated preventative strategies.
Structural variation in subcortical brain regions has been linked to substance use, including the most commonly used substances nicotine and alcohol. Pre-existing differences in subcortical brain volume may affect smoking and alcohol use, but there is also evidence that smoking and alcohol use can lead to structural changes.
We assess the causal nature of the complex relationship of subcortical brain volume with smoking and alcohol use, using bi-directional Mendelian randomisation.
Mendelian randomisation uses genetic variants predictive of a certain ‘exposure’ as instrumental variables to test causal effects on an ‘outcome’. Because of random assortment at meiosis, genetic variants should not be associated with confounders, allowing less biased causal inference. We used summary-level data of genome-wide association studies of subcortical brain volumes (nucleus accumbens, amygdala, caudate, hippocampus, pallidum, putamen and thalamus; n = 50 290) and smoking and alcohol use (smoking initiation, n = 848 460; cigarettes per day, n = 216 590; smoking cessation, n = 378 249; alcoholic drinks per week, n = 630 154; alcohol dependence, n = 46 568). The main analysis, inverse-variance weighted regression, was verified by a wide range of sensitivity methods.
There was strong evidence that liability to alcohol dependence decreased amygdala and hippocampal volume, and smoking more cigarettes per day decreased hippocampal volume. From subcortical brain volumes to substance use, there was no or weak evidence for causal effects.
Our findings suggest that heavy alcohol use and smoking can causally reduce subcortical brain volume. This adds to accumulating evidence that alcohol and smoking affect the brain, and likely mental health, warranting more recognition in public health efforts.
The ‘16Up’ study conducted at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute from January 2014 to December 2018 aimed to examine the physical and mental health of young Australian twins aged 16−18 years (N = 876; 371 twin pairs and 18 triplet sets). Measurements included online questionnaires covering physical and mental health as well as information and communication technology (ICT) use, actigraphy, sleep diaries and hair samples to determine cortisol concentrations. Study participants generally rated themselves as being in good physical (79%) and mental (73%) health and reported lower rates of psychological distress and exposure to alcohol, tobacco products or other substances than previously reported for this age group in the Australian population. Daily or near-daily online activity was almost universal among study participants, with no differences noted between males and females in terms of frequency or duration of internet access. Patterns of ICT use in this sample indicated that the respondents were more likely to use online information sources for researching physical health issues than for mental health or substance use issues, and that they generally reported partial levels of satisfaction with the mental health information they found online. This suggests that internet-based mental health resources can be readily accessed by adolescent Australians, and their computer literacy augurs well for future access to online health resources. In combination with other data collected as part of the ongoing Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study, the 16Up project provides a valuable resource for the longitudinal investigation of genetic and environmental contributions to phenotypic variation in a variety of human traits.
Previous genetic studies on hair morphology focused on the overall morphology of the hair using data collected by self-report or researcher observation. Here, we present the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) of a micro-level quantitative measure of hair curvature. We compare these results to GWAS results obtained using a macro-level classification of observable hair curvature performed in the same sample of twins and siblings of European descent. Observational data were collected by trained observers, while quantitative data were acquired using an Optical Fibre Diameter Analyser (OFDA). The GWAS for both the observational and quantitative measures of hair curvature resulted in genome-wide significant signals at chromosome 1q21.3 close to the trichohyalin (TCHH) gene, previously shown to harbor variants associated with straight hair morphology in Europeans. All genetic variants reaching genome-wide significance for both GWAS (quantitative measure lead single-nucleotide polymorphism [SNP] rs12130862, p = 9.5 × 10–09; observational measure lead SNP rs11803731, p = 2.1 × 10–17) were in moderate to very high linkage disequilibrium (LD) with each other (minimum r2 = .45), indicating they represent the same genetic locus. Conditional analyses confirmed the presence of only one signal associated with each measure at this locus. Results from the quantitative measures reconfirmed the accuracy of observational measures.
Previous genetic association studies have failed to identify loci robustly associated with sepsis, and there have been no published genetic association studies or polygenic risk score analyses of patients with septic shock, despite evidence suggesting genetic factors may be involved. We systematically collected genotype and clinical outcome data in the context of a randomized controlled trial from patients with septic shock to enrich the presence of disease-associated genetic variants. We performed genomewide association studies of susceptibility and mortality in septic shock using 493 patients with septic shock and 2442 population controls, and polygenic risk score analysis to assess genetic overlap between septic shock risk/mortality with clinically relevant traits. One variant, rs9489328, located in AL589740.1 noncoding RNA, was significantly associated with septic shock (p = 1.05 × 10–10); however, it is likely a false-positive. We were unable to replicate variants previously reported to be associated (p < 1.00 × 10–6 in previous scans) with susceptibility to and mortality from sepsis. Polygenic risk scores for hematocrit and granulocyte count were negatively associated with 28-day mortality (p = 3.04 × 10–3; p = 2.29 × 10–3), and scores for C-reactive protein levels were positively associated with susceptibility to septic shock (p = 1.44 × 10–3). Results suggest that common variants of large effect do not influence septic shock susceptibility, mortality and resolution; however, genetic predispositions to clinically relevant traits are significantly associated with increased susceptibility and mortality in septic individuals.
This letter reflects on my collaborations with Nick Martin over the past 18 years. Working together we have applied twin-family and statistical genetics methods to examine the genetic architecture and identify genetic variants influencing a range of physical, psychological and social traits. The common thread across much of this work has been the empirical questions: Why are we the way we are and how can this knowledge help us when things go wrong?
The aim of the 25 and Up (25Up) study was to assess a wide range of psychological and behavioral risk factors behind mental illness in a large cohort of Australian twins and their non-twin siblings. Participants had already been studied longitudinally from the age of 12 and most recently in the 19Up study (mean age = 26.1 years, SD = 4.1, range = 20–39). This subsequent wave follows up these twins several years later in life (mean age = 29.7 years, SD = 2.2, range = 22–44). The resulting data set enables additional detailed investigations of genetic pathways underlying psychiatric illnesses in the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study (BLTS). Data were collected between 2016 and 2018 from 2540 twins and their non-twin siblings (59% female, including 341 monozygotic complete twin-pairs, 415 dizygotic complete pairs and 1028 non-twin siblings and singletons). Participants were from South-East Queensland, Australia, and the sample was of predominantly European ancestry. The 25Up study collected information on 20 different mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, substance use, psychosis, bipolar and attention-deficit hyper-activity disorder, as well as general demographic information such as occupation, education level, number of children, self-perceived IQ and household environment. In this article, we describe the prevalence, comorbidities and age of onset for all 20 examined disorders. The 25Up study also assessed general and physical health, including physical activity, sleep patterns, eating behaviors, baldness, acne, migraines and allergies, as well as psychosocial items such as suicidality, perceived stress, loneliness, aggression, sleep–wake cycle, sexual identity and preferences, technology and internet use, traumatic life events, gambling and cyberbullying. In addition, 25Up assessed female health traits such as morning sickness, breastfeeding and endometriosis. Furthermore, given that the 25Up study is an extension of previous BLTS studies, 86% of participants have already been genotyped. This rich resource will enable the assessment of epidemiological risk factors, as well as the heritability and genetic correlations of mental conditions.
Despite established clinical associations among major depression (MD), alcohol dependence (AD), and alcohol consumption (AC), the nature of the causal relationship between them is not completely understood. We leveraged genome-wide data from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC) and UK Biobank to test for the presence of shared genetic mechanisms and causal relationships among MD, AD, and AC.
Linkage disequilibrium score regression and Mendelian randomization (MR) were performed using genome-wide data from the PGC (MD: 135 458 cases and 344 901 controls; AD: 10 206 cases and 28 480 controls) and UK Biobank (AC-frequency: 438 308 individuals; AC-quantity: 307 098 individuals).
Positive genetic correlation was observed between MD and AD (rgMD−AD = + 0.47, P = 6.6 × 10−10). AC-quantity showed positive genetic correlation with both AD (rgAD−AC quantity = + 0.75, P = 1.8 × 10−14) and MD (rgMD−AC quantity = + 0.14, P = 2.9 × 10−7), while there was negative correlation of AC-frequency with MD (rgMD−AC frequency = −0.17, P = 1.5 × 10−10) and a non-significant result with AD. MR analyses confirmed the presence of pleiotropy among these four traits. However, the MD-AD results reflect a mediated-pleiotropy mechanism (i.e. causal relationship) with an effect of MD on AD (beta = 0.28, P = 1.29 × 10−6). There was no evidence for reverse causation.
This study supports a causal role for genetic liability of MD on AD based on genetic datasets including thousands of individuals. Understanding mechanisms underlying MD-AD comorbidity addresses important public health concerns and has the potential to facilitate prevention and intervention efforts.
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.
Psychological distress (PSYCH), somatic distress (SOMA), affective disorders (AD), and substance use (SU) frequently co-occur. The genetic relationship between PSYCH and SOMA, however, remains understudied. We examined the genetic and environmental influences on these two disorders and their comorbid AD and SU using structural equation modeling. Self-reported PSYCH and SOMA were measured in 1,548 twins using the two subscales of a 12-item questionnaire, the Somatic and Psychological Health Report. Its reliability and psychometric properties were examined. Six ADs, involvement of licit and illicit substance, and two SU disorders were obtained from 1,663–2,132 twins using the World Mental Health Composite International Diagnostic Interview and/or from an online adaption of the same. SU phenotypes (heritability: 49–79%) were found to be more heritable than the affective disorder phenotypes (heritability: 32–42%), SOMA (heritability: 25%), and PSYCH (heritability: 23%). We fit separate non-parametric item response theory models for PSYCH, SOMA, AD, and SU. The IRT scores were used as the refined phenotypes for fitting multivariate genetic models. The best-fitting model showed the similar amount of genetic overlap between PSYCH–AD (genetic correlation rG = 0.49) and SOMA–AD (rG =0.53), as well as between PSYCH–SU (rG = 0.23) and SOMA–SU (rG = 0.25). Unique environmental factors explained 53% to 76% of the variance in each of these four phenotypes, whereas additive genetic factors explained 17% to 46% of the variance. The covariance between the four phenotypes was largely explained by unique environmental factors. Common genetic factor had a significant influence on all the four phenotypes, but they explained a moderate portion of the covariance.
Many studies have identified changes in the brain associated with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), but few have examined the relationship between genetic determinants of OCD and brain variation.
We present the first genome-wide investigation of overlapping genetic risk for OCD and genetic influences on subcortical brain structures.
Using single nucleotide polymorphism effect concordance analysis, we measured genetic overlap between the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) of OCD (1465 participants with OCD, 5557 controls) and recent GWASs of eight subcortical brain volumes (13 171 participants).
We found evidence of significant positive concordance between OCD risk variants and variants associated with greater nucleus accumbens and putamen volumes. When conditioning OCD risk variants on brain volume, variants influencing putamen, amygdala and thalamus volumes were associated with risk for OCD.
These results are consistent with current OCD neurocircuitry models. Further evidence will clarify the relationship between putamen volume and OCD risk, and the roles of the detected variants in this disorder.
Declaration of interest
The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
Drinking alcohol is a normal behavior in many societies, and prior studies have demonstrated it has both genetic and environmental sources of variation. Using two very large samples of twins and their first-degree relatives (Australia ≈ 20,000 individuals from 8,019 families; Virginia ≈ 23,000 from 6,042 families), we examine whether there are differences: (1) in the genetic and environmental factors that influence four interrelated drinking behaviors (quantity, frequency, age of initiation, and number of drinks in the last week), (2) between the twin-only design and the extended twin design, and (3) the Australian and Virginia samples. We find that while drinking behaviors are interrelated, there are substantial differences in the genetic and environmental architectures across phenotypes. Specifically, drinking quantity, frequency, and number of drinks in the past week have large broad genetic variance components, and smaller but significant environmental variance components, while age of onset is driven exclusively by environmental factors. Further, the twin-only design and the extended twin design come to similar conclusions regarding broad-sense heritability and environmental transmission, but the extended twin models provide a more nuanced perspective. Finally, we find a high level of similarity between the Australian and Virginian samples, especially for the genetic factors. The observed differences, when present, tend to be at the environmental level. Implications for the extended twin model and future directions are discussed.
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.
Acne vulgaris is a skin disease with a multifactorial and complex pathology. While several twin studies have estimated that acne has a heritability of up to 80%, the genomic elements responsible for the origin and pathology of acne are still undiscovered. Here we performed a twin-based structural equation model, using available data on acne severity for an Australian sample of 4,491 twins and their siblings aged from 10 to 24. This study extends by a factor of 3 an earlier analysis of the genetic factors of acne. Acne severity was rated by nurses on a 4-point scale (1 = absent to 4 = severe) on up to three body sites (face, back, chest) and on up to three occasions (age 12, 14, and 16). The phenotype that we analyzed was the most severe rating at any site or age. The polychoric correlation for monozygotic twins was higher (rMZ = 0.86, 95% CI [0.81, 0.90]) than for dizygotic twins (rDZ = 0.42, 95% CI [0.35, 0.47]). A model that includes additive genetic effects and unique environmental effects was the most parsimonious model to explain the genetic variance of acne severity, and the estimated heritability was 0.85 (95% CI [0.82, 0.87]). We then conducted a genome-wide analysis including an additional 271 siblings — for a total of 4,762 individuals. A genome-wide association study (GWAS) scan did not detect loci associated with the severity of acne at the threshold of 5E-08 but suggestive association was found for three SNPs: rs10515088 locus 5q13.1 (p = 3.9E-07), rs12738078 locus 1p35.5 (p = 6.7E-07), and rs117943429 locus 18q21.2 (p = 9.1E-07). The 5q13.1 locus is close to PIK3R1, a gene that has a potential regulatory effect on sebocyte differentiation.
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.