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The University of Minnesota has played an important role in the resurgence and eventual mainstreaming of human behavioral genetics in psychology and psychiatry. We describe this history in the context of three major movements in behavioral genetics: (1) radical eugenics in the early 20th century, (2) resurgence of human behavioral genetics in the 1960s, largely using twin and adoption designs to obtain more precise estimates of genetic and environmental influences on individual differences in behavior; and (3) use of measured genotypes to understand behavior. University of Minnesota scientists made significant contributions especially in (2) and (3) in the domains of cognitive ability, drug abuse and mental health, and endophenotypes. These contributions are illustrated through a historical perspective of major figures and events in behavioral genetics.
Recent well-powered genome-wide association studies have enhanced prediction of substance use outcomes via polygenic scores (PGSs). Here, we test (1) whether these scores contribute to prediction over-and-above family history, (2) the extent to which PGS prediction reflects inherited genetic variation v. demography (population stratification and assortative mating) and indirect genetic effects of parents (genetic nurture), and (3) whether PGS prediction is mediated by behavioral disinhibition prior to substance use onset.
PGSs for alcohol, cannabis, and nicotine use/use disorder were calculated for Minnesota Twin Family Study participants (N = 2483, 1565 monozygotic/918 dizygotic). Twins' parents were assessed for histories of substance use disorder. Twins were assessed for behavioral disinhibition at age 11 and substance use from ages 14 to 24. PGS prediction of substance use was examined using linear mixed-effects, within-twin pair, and structural equation models.
Nearly all PGS measures were associated with multiple types of substance use independently of family history. However, most within-pair PGS prediction estimates were substantially smaller than the corresponding between-pair estimates, suggesting that prediction is driven in part by demography and indirect genetic effects of parents. Path analyses indicated the effects of both PGSs and family history on substance use were mediated via disinhibition in preadolescence.
PGSs capturing risk of substance use and use disorder can be combined with family history measures to augment prediction of substance use outcomes. Results highlight indirect sources of genetic associations and preadolescent elevations in behavioral disinhibition as two routes through which these scores may relate to substance use.
To better characterize brain-based mechanisms of polygenic liability for psychopathology and psychological traits, we extended our previous report (Liu et al. Psychophysiological endophenotypes to characterize mechanisms of known schizophrenia genetic loci. Psychological Medicine, 2017), focused solely on schizophrenia, to test the association between multivariate psychophysiological candidate endophenotypes (including novel measures of θ/δ oscillatory activity) and a range of polygenic scores (PGSs), namely alcohol/cannabis/nicotine use, an updated schizophrenia PGS (containing 52 more genome-wide significant loci than the PGS used in our previous report) and educational attainment.
A large community-based twin/family sample (N = 4893) was genome-wide genotyped and imputed. PGSs were constructed for alcohol use, regular smoking initiation, lifetime cannabis use, schizophrenia, and educational attainment. Eleven endophenotypes were assessed: visual oddball task event-related electroencephalogram (EEG) measures (target-related parietal P3 amplitude, frontal θ, and parietal δ energy/inter-trial phase clustering), band-limited resting-state EEG power, antisaccade error rate. Principal component analysis exploited covariation among endophenotypes to extract a smaller number of meaningful dimensions/components for statistical analysis.
Endophenotypes were heritable. PGSs showed expected intercorrelations (e.g. schizophrenia PGS correlated positively with alcohol/nicotine/cannabis PGSs). Schizophrenia PGS was negatively associated with an event-related P3/δ component [β = −0.032, nonparametric bootstrap 95% confidence interval (CI) −0.059 to −0.003]. A prefrontal control component (event-related θ/antisaccade errors) was negatively associated with alcohol (β = −0.034, 95% CI −0.063 to −0.006) and regular smoking PGSs (β = −0.032, 95% CI −0.061 to −0.005) and positively associated with educational attainment PGS (β = 0.031, 95% CI 0.003–0.058).
Evidence suggests that multivariate endophenotypes of decision-making (P3/δ) and cognitive/attentional control (θ/antisaccade error) relate to alcohol/nicotine, schizophrenia, and educational attainment PGSs and represent promising targets for future research.
The Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research (MCTFR) comprises multiple longitudinal, community-representative investigations of twin and adoptive families that focus on psychological adjustment, personality, cognitive ability and brain function, with a special emphasis on substance use and related psychopathology. The MCTFR includes the Minnesota Twin Registry (MTR), a cohort of twins who have completed assessments in middle and older adulthood; the Minnesota Twin Family Study (MTFS) of twins assessed from childhood and adolescence into middle adulthood; the Enrichment Study (ES) of twins oversampled for high risk for substance-use disorders assessed from childhood into young adulthood; the Adolescent Brain (AdBrain) study, a neuroimaging study of adolescent twins; and the Siblings Interaction and Behavior Study (SIBS), a study of adoptive and nonadoptive families assessed from adolescence into young adulthood. Here we provide a brief overview of key features of these established studies and describe new MCTFR investigations that follow up and expand upon existing studies or recruit and assess new samples, including the MTR Study of Relationships, Personality, and Health (MTR-RPH); the Colorado-Minnesota (COMN) Marijuana Study; the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study; the Colorado Online Twins (CoTwins) study and the Children of Twins (CoT) study.
This article serves to outline a research paradigm to investigate main effects and interactions of genes, environment, and development on behavior and psychiatric illness. We provide a historical context for candidate gene studies and genome-wide association studies, including benefits, limitations, and expected payoffs. Using substance use and abuse as our driving example, we then turn to the importance of etiological psychological theory in guiding genetic, environmental, and developmental research, as well as the utility of refined phenotypic measures, such as endophenotypes, in the pursuit of etiological understanding and focused tests of genetic and environmental associations. Phenotypic measurement has received considerable attention in the history of psychology and is informed by psychometrics, whereas the environment remains relatively poorly measured and is often confounded with genetic effects (i.e., gene–environment correlation). Genetically informed designs, which are no longer limited to twin and adoption studies thanks to ever-cheaper genotyping, are required to understand environmental influences. Finally, we outline the vast amount of individual difference in structural genomic variation, most of which remains to be leveraged in genetic association tests. Although the genetic data can be massive and burdensome (tens of millions of variants per person), we argue that improved understanding of genomic structure and function will provide investigators with new tools to test specific a priori hypotheses derived from etiological psychological theory, much like current candidate gene research but with less confusion and more payoff than candidate gene research has to date.
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