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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.
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.
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.
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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