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Timing of developmental milestones, such as age at first walking, is associated with later diagnoses of neurodevelopmental disorders. However, its relationship to genetic risk for neurodevelopmental disorders in the general population is unknown. Here, we investigate associations between attainment of early-life language and motor development milestones and genetic liability to autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and schizophrenia.
We use data from a genotyped sub-set (N = 25699) of children in the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). We calculate polygenic scores (PGS) for autism, ADHD, and schizophrenia and predict maternal reports of children's age at first walking, first words, and first sentences, motor delays (18 months), and language delays and a generalised measure of concerns about development (3 years). We use linear and probit regression models in a multi-group framework to test for sex differences.
We found that ADHD PGS were associated with earlier walking age (β = −0.033, padj < 0.001) in both males and females. Additionally, autism PGS were associated with later walking (β = 0.039, padj = 0.006) in females only. No robust associations were observed for schizophrenia PGS or between any neurodevelopmental PGS and measures of language developmental milestone attainment.
Genetic liabilities for neurodevelopmental disorders show some specific associations with the age at which children first walk unsupported. Associations are small but robust and, in the case of autism PGS, differentiated by sex. These findings suggest that early-life motor developmental milestone attainment is associated with genetic liability to ADHD and autism in the general population.
The rise of social media use in young people has sparked concern about the impact of cyber-victimisation on mental health. Although cyber-victimisation is associated with mental health problems, it is not known whether such associations reflect genetic and environmental confounding.
We used the co-twin control design to test the direct association between cyber-victimisation and multiple domains of mental health in young people. Participants were 7708 twins drawn from the Twins Early Development Study, a UK-based population cohort followed from birth to age 22.
Monozygotic twins exposed to greater levels of cyber-victimisation had more symptoms of internalising, externalising and psychotic disorders than their less victimised co-twins at age 22, even after accounting for face-to-face peer victimisation and prior mental health. However, effect sizes from the most stringent monozygotic co-twin control analyses were decreased by two thirds from associations at the individual level [pooled β across all mental health problems = 0.06 (95% CI 0.03–0.10) v. 0.17 (95% CI 0.15–0.19) in individual-level analyses].
Cyber-victimisation has a small direct association with multiple mental health problems in young people. However, a large part of the association between cyber-victimisation and mental health is due to pre-existing genetic and environmental vulnerabilities and co-occurring face-to-face victimisation. Therefore, preventative interventions should target cyber-victimisation in conjunction with pre-existing mental health vulnerabilities and other forms of victimisation.
Maternal smoking during pregnancy (MSDP) has been linked to offspring's externalizing problems. It has been argued that socio-demographic factors (e.g. maternal age and education), co-occurring environmental risk factors, or pleiotropic genetic effects may account for the association between MSDP and later outcomes. This study provides a comprehensive investigation of the association between MSDP and a single harmonized component of externalizing: aggressive behaviour, measured throughout childhood and adolescence.
Data came from four prospective twin cohorts – Twins Early Development Study, Netherlands Twin Register, Childhood and Adolescent Twin Study of Sweden, and FinnTwin12 study – who collaborate in the EU-ACTION consortium. Data from 30 708 unrelated individuals were analysed. Based on item level data, a harmonized measure of aggression was created at ages 9–10; 12; 14–15 and 16–18.
MSDP predicted aggression in childhood and adolescence. A meta-analysis across the four samples found the independent effect of MSDP to be 0.4% (r = 0.066), this remained consistent when analyses were performed separately by sex. All other perinatal factors combined explained 1.1% of the variance in aggression across all ages and samples (r = 0.112). Paternal smoking and aggressive parenting strategies did not account for the MSDP-aggression association, consistent with the hypothesis of a small direct link between MSDP and aggression.
Perinatal factors, including MSDP, account for a small portion of the variance in aggression in childhood and adolescence. Later experiences may play a greater role in shaping adolescents’ aggressive behaviour.
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