Professor Angelica Ronald
Academic and research departmentsSchool of Psychology.
In 2023 I moved to the University of Surrey as Professor of Psychology and Genetics. Here is a short bio:
- I studied Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, graduating in 2000
- I received my PhD in Quantitative Genetics from King's College London
- My postdoc was funded by an Autism Speaks fellowship in which I gained training in Molecular Genetics
- I joined Birkbeck, University of London in 2007 as a lecturer, where I established the Genes Environment Lifespan (GEL) lab
- I became Professor of Psychology and Genetics in 2017
- I co-founded the London Genetics Network in 2020
Areas of specialism
Postgraduate research supervision
I'm always looking for excellent PhD students to join my lab.
I currently supervise:
- Anja Hollowell (ESRC studentship)
- Aislinn Bowler (MRC iCASE studentship)
- Irene González Calvo (LISS ESRC studentship)
- Dr Anna Gui
Biological psychology with research methods 2
BSc final year projects
IMPORTANCE Although infancy is the most rapid period of postnatal growth and development, factors associated with variation in infant traits are not well understood. OBJECTIVE To synthesize the large twin study literature partitioning phenotypic variance in psychological traits and developmental milestones in infancy into estimates of heritability and shared and nonshared environment. DATA SOURCES PubMed, PsycINFO, and references of included publications were searched up to February 11, 2021. STUDY SELECTION Peer-reviewed publications using the classical twin design to study psychological traits and developmental milestones from birth to 2 years old were included. DATA EXTRACTION AND SYNTHESIS Data were extracted in line with Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses and categorized using the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health: Children and Youth Version. Data were pooled in 3-level random effects models, incorporating within-cohort variance in outcome measurement and between-cohort variance. Data were analyzed from March 2021 through September 2021. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES The primary outcomes were monozygotic and dizygotic twin correlations. These were used to calculate genetic and shared and nonshared environment estimates. RESULTS Among 139 publications that were systematically retrieved, data were available on 79 044 twin pairs (31 053 monozygotic and 47 991 dizygotic pairs), 52 independent samples, and 21 countries. Meta-analyses were conducted on psychological traits and developmental milestones from 106 publications organized into 10 categories of functioning, disability, and health. Moderate to high genetic estimates for 8 categories were found, the highest of which was psychomotor functions (pooled h(2), 0.59; 95% CI, 0.25-0.79; P < .001). Several categories of traits had substantial shared environment estimates, the highest being mental functions of language (pooled c(2), 0.59; 95% CI, 0.24-0.86; P = .001). All examined categories of traits had moderate or high nonshared environment estimates, the highest of which were emotional functions (pooled e(2), 0.42; 95% CI, 0.33-0.50; P < .001) and family relationships (pooled e(2), 0.42; 95% CI, 0.30-0.55; P < .001). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE These findings may be an important source of information to guide future gene discovery research, public perspectives on nature and nurture, and clinical insights into the degree to which family history and environments may estimate major domains of infant functioning, disability, and health in psychological traits and developmental milestones.
Occurrence of psychotic experiences is common amongst adolescents in the general population. Twin studies suggest that a third to a half of variance in adolescent psychotic experiences is explained by genetic influences. Here we test the extent to which common genetic variants account for some of the twin-based heritability. Psychotic experiences were assessed with the Specific Psychotic Experiences Questionnaire in a community sample of 2152 16-year-olds. Self-reported measures of Paranoia, Hallucinations, Cognitive Disorganization, Grandiosity, Anhedonia, and Parent-rated Negative Symptoms were obtained. Estimates of SNP heritability were derived and compared to the twin heritability estimates from the same sample. Three approaches to genome-wide restricted maximum likelihood (GREML) analyses were compared: (1) standard GREML performed on full genome-wide data; (2) GREML stratified by minor allele frequency (MAF); and (3) GREML performed on pruned data. The standard GREML revealed a significant SNP heritability of 20 % for Anhedonia (SE = 0.12; p < 0.046) and an estimate of 19 % for Cognitive Disorganization, which was close to significant (SE = 0.13; p < 0.059). Grandiosity and Paranoia showed modest SNP heritability estimates (17 %; SE = 0.13 and 14 %; SE = 0.13, respectively, both n.s.), and zero estimates were found for Hallucinations and Negative Symptoms. The estimates for Anhedonia, Cognitive Disorganization and Grandiosity accounted for approximately half the previously reported twin heritability. SNP heritability estimates from the MAF-stratified approach were mostly consistent with the standard estimates and offered additional information about the distribution of heritability across the MAF range of the SNPs. In contrast, the estimates derived from the pruned data were for the most part not consistent with the other two approaches. It is likely that the difference seen in the pruned estimates was driven by the loss of tagged causal variants, an issue fundamental to this approach. The current results suggest that common genetic variants play a role in the etiology of some adolescent psychotic experiences, however further research on larger samples is desired and the use of MAF-stratified approach recommended.
Most evidence to date highlights the importance of genetic influences on the liability to autism and related traits. However, most of these findings are derived from clinically ascertained samples, possibly missing individuals with subtler manifestations, and obtained estimates may not be representative of the population. To establish the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors in liability to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and a broader autism phenotype in a large population-based twin sample and to ascertain the genetic/environmental relationship between dimensional trait measures and categorical diagnostic constructs of ASD. We used data from the population-based cohort Twins Early Development Study, which included all twin pairs born in England and Wales from January 1, 1994, through December 31, 1996. We performed joint continuous-ordinal liability threshold model fitting using the full information maximum likelihood method to estimate genetic and environmental parameters of covariance. Twin pairs underwent the following assessments: the Childhood Autism Spectrum Test (CAST) (6423 pairs; mean age, 7.9 years), the Development and Well-being Assessment (DAWBA) (359 pairs; mean age, 10.3 years), the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) (203 pairs; mean age, 13.2 years), the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) (205 pairs; mean age, 13.2 years), and a best-estimate diagnosis (207 pairs). Participants underwent screening using a population-based measure of autistic traits (CAST assessment), structured diagnostic assessments (DAWBA, ADI-R, and ADOS), and a best-estimate diagnosis. On all ASD measures, correlations among monozygotic twins (range, 0.77-0.99) were significantly higher than those for dizygotic twins (range, 0.22-0.65), giving heritability estimates of 56% to 95%. The covariance of CAST and ASD diagnostic status (DAWBA, ADOS and best-estimate diagnosis) was largely explained by additive genetic factors (76%-95%). For the ADI-R only, shared environmental influences were significant (30% [95% CI, 8%-47%]) but smaller than genetic influences (56% [95% CI, 37%-82%]). The liability to ASD and a more broadly defined high-level autism trait phenotype in this large population-based twin sample derives primarily from additive genetic and, to a lesser extent, nonshared environmental effects. The largely consistent results across different diagnostic tools suggest that the results are generalizable across multiple measures and assessment methods. Genetic factors underpinning individual differences in autismlike traits show considerable overlap with genetic influences on diagnosed ASD.
Peer behaviour plays an important role in the development of social adjustment, though little is known about its genetic architecture. We conducted a twin study combined with a genome-wide complex trait analysis (GCTA) and a genome-wide screen to characterise genetic influences on problematic peer behaviour during childhood and adolescence. This included a series of longitudinal measures (parent-reported Strengths-and-Difficulties Questionnaire) from a UK population-based birth-cohort (ALSPAC, 4-17 years), and a UK twin sample (TEDS, 4-11 years). Longitudinal twin analysis (TEDS; N currency sign 7,366 twin pairs) showed that peer problems in childhood are heritable (4-11 years, 0.60 < twin-h (2) currency sign 0.71) but genetically heterogeneous from age to age (4-11 years, twin-r (g) = 0.30). GCTA (ALSPAC: N currency sign 5,608, TEDS: N currency sign 2,691) provided furthermore little support for the contribution of measured common genetic variants during childhood (4-12 years, 0.02 < GCTA-h (2)(Meta) currency sign 0.11) though these influences become stronger in adolescence (13-17 years, 0.14 < GCTA-h (2)(ALSPAC) currency sign 0.27). A subsequent cross-sectional genome-wide screen in ALSPAC (N currency sign 6,000) focussed on peer problems with the highest GCTA-heritability (10, 13 and 17 years, 0.0002 < GCTA-P currency sign 0.03). Single variant signals (P currency sign 10(-5)) were followed up in TEDS (N currency sign 2835, 9 and 11 years) and, in search for autism quantitative trait loci, explored within two autism samples (AGRE: N (Pedigrees) = 793; ACC: N (Cases) = 1,453/N (Controls) = 7,070). There was, however, no evidence for association in TEDS and little evidence for an overlap with the autistic continuum. In summary, our findings suggest that problematic peer relationships are heritable but genetically complex and heterogeneous from age to age, with an increase in common measurable genetic variation during adolescence.
This paper reviews the studies that have aimed to identify genes influencing psychological traits in infancy (from birth to age 12 months). The review also addresses why genetic research in infancy is worthwhile and what genetic approaches such as genome-wide association studies and next generation sequencing could offer infant genetics. The results revealed that: (a) all studies (N=26) have employed a candidate gene association design; (b) existing studies have most commonly focused on the Dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) and the Serotonin transporter promoter (5-HTTLPR) gene polymorphisms; (c) phenotypes that have been assessed are temperament, attachment, and attention. Two further studies included both temperament and electrophysiological markers; (d) among many unreplicated findings, the most promising result appeared to be an association between the long DRD4 polymorphism and several "positive" temperament characteristics from birth to 4-months of age and at 12-months of age. It is concluded that, to date, there are limited, and mixed, findings regarding the possible association of genes with psychological phenotypes in infancy. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
This study aimed to test for overlap in genetic influences between psychotic-like experience traits shown by adolescents in the community, and clinically-recognized psychiatric disorders in adulthood, specifically schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. The full spectra of psychotic-like experience domains, both in terms of their severity and type (positive, cognitive, and negative), were assessed using self- and parent-ratings in three European community samples aged 15-19 years (Final N incl. siblings=6,297-10,098). A mega-genome-wide association study (mega-GWAS) for each psychotic-like experience domain was performed. Single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-heritability of each psychotic-like experience domain was estimated using genomic-relatedness-based restricted maximum-likelihood (GREML) and linkage disequilibrium- (LD-) score regression. Genetic overlap between specific psychotic-like experience domains and schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression was assessed using polygenic risk score (PRS) and LD-score regression. GREML returned SNP-heritability estimates of 3-9% for psychotic-like experience trait domains, with higher estimates for less skewed traits (Anhedonia, Cognitive Disorganization) than for more skewed traits (Paranoia and Hallucinations, Parent-rated Negative Symptoms). Mega-GWAS analysis identified one genome-wide significant association for Anhedonia within IDO2 but which did not replicate in an independent sample. PRS analysis revealed that the schizophrenia PRS significantly predicted all adolescent psychotic-like experience trait domains (Paranoia and Hallucinations only in non-zero scorers). The major depression PRS significantly predicted Anhedonia and Parent-rated Negative Symptoms in adolescence. Psychotic-like experiences during adolescence in the community show additive genetic effects and partly share genetic influences with clinically-recognized psychiatric disorders, specifically schizophrenia and major depression.
Almost all genetic risk factors for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) can be found in the general population, but the effects of this risk are unclear in people not ascertained for neuropsychiatric symptoms. Using several large ASD consortium and population-based resources (total n > 38,000), we find genome-wide genetic links between ASDs and typical variation in social behavior and adaptive functioning. This finding is evidenced through both LD score correlation and de novo variant analysis, indicating that multiple types of genetic risk for ASDs influence a continuum of behavioral and developmental traits, the severe tail of which can result in diagnosis with an ASD or other neuropsychiatric disorder. A continuum model should inform the design and interpretation of studies of neuropsychiatric disease biology.
This study explores the degree to which genetic influences on psychotic experiences are stable across adolescence and adulthood, and their overlap with psychiatric disorders. Genome-wide association results were obtained for adolescent psychotic experiences and negative symptom traits (N = 6297-10,098), schizotypy (N = 3967-4057) and positive psychotic experiences in adulthood (N = 116,787-117,794), schizophrenia (N = 150,064), bipolar disorder (N = 41,653), and depression (N = 173,005). Linkage disequilibrium score regression was used to estimate genetic correlations. Implicated genes from functional and gene-based analyses were compared. Mendelian randomization was performed on trait pairs with significant genetic correlations. Results indicated that subclinical auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions of persecution during adulthood were significantly genetically correlated with schizophrenia (r = 0.27-0.67) and major depression (r = 0.41-96) after correction for multiple testing. Auditory and visual subclinical hallucinations were highly genetically correlated (r = 0.95). Cross-age genetic correlations for psychotic experiences were not significant. Gene mapping and association analyses revealed 14 possible genes associated with psychotic experiences that overlapped across age for psychotic experiences or between psychotic experiences and psychiatric disorders. Mendelian randomization indicated bidirectional associations between auditory and visual hallucinations in adults but did not support causal relationships between psychotic experiences and psychiatric disorders. These findings indicate that psychotic experiences in adulthood may be more linked genetically to schizophrenia and major depression than psychotic experiences in adolescence. Our study implicated specific genes that are associated with psychotic experiences across development, as well as genes shared between psychotic experiences and psychiatric disorders.
Cigarette smoking is a modifiable behaviour associated with mental health. We investigated the degree of genetic overlap between smoking behaviours and psychiatric traits and disorders, and whether genetic associations exist beyond genetic influences shared with confounding variables (cannabis and alcohol use, risk-taking and insomnia). Second, we investigated the presence of causal associations between smoking initiation and psychiatric traits and disorders. We found significant genetic correlations between smoking and psychiatric disorders and adult psychotic experiences. When genetic influences on known covariates were controlled for, genetic associations between most smoking behaviours and schizophrenia and depression endured (but not with bipolar disorder or most psychotic experiences). Mendelian randomization results supported a causal role of smoking initiation on psychiatric disorders and adolescent cognitive and negative psychotic experiences, although not consistently across all sensitivity analyses. In conclusion, smoking and psychiatric disorders share genetic influences that cannot be attributed to covariates such as risk-taking, insomnia or other substance use. As such, there may be some common genetic pathways underlying smoking and psychiatric disorders. In addition, smoking may play a causal role in vulnerability for mental illness.
The high heritability of the core symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been repeatedly demonstrated, but few studies to date have investigated the extent to which the same genetic influences operate across development or new genes emerge at different developmental periods. We report data from a large, population-based study of approximately 4,000 twin pairs, who have been followed up from early to middle childhood. Parents’ ratings of ADHD symptoms showed moderate stability across the ages, which was mainly due to shared genetic influences. There was also evidence of additional genetic influences, which were not shared with those acting earlier on, emerging at later age periods. The contribution of environmental influences to the stability of the ADHD symptoms over time was small. Parents’ ratings on the Conners’ DSM-IV ADHD subscale at the last assessment point, at an average age of 8 years, did not show the rater contrast effects that were observed in the parents’ ratings at earlier ages with briefer measures. Similar estimates of genetic and environmental influences were obtained for girls and boys. We discuss the implications of the findings for molecular genetic studies on ADHD symptomatology.
This study investigated the etiology of autistic-like traits in the general population and the etiological overlap between the three aspects of the triad of impairments (social impairments, communication impairments, restricted repetitive behaviors and interests) that together define autism spectrum disorders. Parents of 3,400 8-year-old twin pairs from the Twins Early Development Study completed the Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test, a screening instrument for autism spectrum symptoms in mainstream samples. Genetic model-fitting of categorical and continuous data is reported. High heritability was found for extreme autistic-like traits (0.64-0.92 for various cutoffs) and autistic-like traits as measured on a continuum (0.78-0.81), with no significant shared environmental influences. All three subscales were highly heritable but showed low covariation. In the genetic modeling, distinct genetic influences were identified for the three components. These results suggest the triad of impairments that define autism spectrum disorders is heterogeneous genetically. Molecular genetic research examining the three components separately may identify different causal pathways for the three components. The analyses give no indication that different genetic processes affect extreme autistic impairments and autistic impairments as measured on a continuum, but this can only be directly tested once genes are identified.
Background Psychotic experiences (PEs) such as paranoia and hallucinations, and negative symptoms (NS) such as anhedonia and flat affect are common in adolescence. Psychotic experiences and negative symptoms (PENS) increase risk for later psychiatric outcomes, particularly when they persist. The extent to which genetic and environmental influences contribute to the stability of PENS in mid-to-late adolescence is unknown. Methods Using the Specific Psychotic Experiences Questionnaire (SPEQ) twice across similar to 9 months in adolescence, N = 1,448 twin pairs [M = 16.32 (0.68)] reported experiences of paranoia, hallucinations, cognitive disorganization, grandiosity and anhedonia, and their parents reported on a range of NS. Individuals were split into low-scoring, decreasing, increasing and persistent groups for each subscale. Frequencies and mean differences in distress, depression traits and emotional problems were investigated across groups. Longitudinal structural equation modelling was used to estimate the aetiological components underlying the stability of PENS. Results Phenotypic stability was moderate for all PENS (r = .59-.69). Persistent PENS across 9 months were associated with greater levels of distress (V = 0.15-0.46, for PEs only), depression traits (d = 0.47-1.67, except grandiosity) and emotional problems (d = 0.47-1.47, except grandiosity and anhedonia) at baseline compared to groups with transitory or low levels of PENS. At both ages PENS were heritable and influenced by shared and nonshared environment. Genetic influences contributed 38%-62% and shared environment contributed 13%-33% to the stability of PENS. Nonshared environment contributed 34%-41% (12% for parent-rated NS). There was strong overlap of genetic and shared environmental influences across time, and lower overlap for nonshared environment. Imperfect stability of PENS was at least partly due to nonshared environmental influences. Conclusions When adolescent PENS persist over time, they are often characterized by more distress, and higher levels of other psychopathology. Both genetic and environmental effects influence stability of PENS.
Behaviors characteristic of autism and ADHD emerge in early childhood, yet research investigating their comorbidity has focused on older children. This study aimed to explore the nature of the relationship between autistic-like traits and ADHD behaviors in a community sample of 2-year-olds. Twins from the Boston University Twin Project ( N = 312 pairs) were assessed by their parents on autistic-like traits and ADHD behaviors using the Childhood Behavior Checklist. Phenotypic analyses showed that after controlling for general cognitive ability and socioeconomic status, autistic-like traits (total scale as well as social and nonsocial subscales) correlated positively with ADHD behaviors ( r = 0.23–0.26). Structural equation model-fitting analyses revealed that there were modest shared genetic influences between ADHD- and autistic traits (genetic correlation = 0.27) as well as some common environmental influences explaining their covariation. Implications for identifying shared biological pathways underlying autistic-like traits and ADHD behaviors are discussed.
BackgroundAlthough many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) experience difficulties with anxiety, the manifestation of these difficulties remains unresolved. The current study assessed anxiety in a large population-based twin sample, aged 10-15years. Phenotypic analyses were used to explore anxiety symptoms in children with ASDs, their unaffected co-twins and a control sample. MethodsParticipants included 146 families from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) where one or both children had a suspected ASD. Eighty control families were also included. The Revised Child Anxiety and Depression scale (Chorpita, Yim, Moffitt, Umemoto & Francis, 2000) was completed (self- and parent-report), along with diagnostic and cognitive tests. Children were categorized into four groups (a) ASD (b) Broader Autism Phenotype (BAP: mainly co-twins of children with ASDs, with high subclinical autistic traits) (c) unaffected co-twins (with neither ASDs nor BAP) (d) controls. ResultsChildren in the ASD and BAP groups scored significantly higher than controls for all parent-rated (although not child-rated) anxiety subscales. There were no significant differences between the ASD and BAP groups for any of the parent-rated anxiety subscales. Compared with controls, unaffected co-twins showed significantly heightened Social Anxiety, Generalized Anxiety, and Panic symptoms. Significant associations were observed between certain anxiety subscales and both IQ and ASD symptoms. For example, greater parent-rated Social Anxiety was associated with higher IQ and increased social and communicative impairments. Significant interrater correlations were observed for anxiety reports in children with ASDs (r=.27-.54; p
BackgroundIndividual differences in symptoms of behaviour problems in childhood and adolescence are not primarily due to nature or nurture - another substantial source of variance is non-shared environment (NSE). However, few specific environmental factors have been found to account for these NSE estimates. This creates a 'missing NSE' gap analogous to the 'missing heritability' gap, which refers to the shortfall in identifying DNA differences responsible for heritability. We assessed the extent to which variance in behaviour problem symptoms during the first two decades of life can be accounted for by measured NSE effects after controlling for genetics and shared environment. MethodsThe sample included 4,039 pairs of twins in the Twins Early Development Study whose environments and symptoms of behaviour problems were assessed in preschool, childhood, adolescence and early adulthood via parent, teacher and self-reports. Twin-specific environments were assessed via parent-reports, including early life adversity, parental feelings, parental discipline and classroom environment. Multivariate longitudinal twin model-fitting was employed to estimate the variance in behaviour problem symptoms at each age that could be predicted by environmental measures at the previous age. ResultsOn average across childhood, adolescence and adulthood, parent-rated NSE composite measures accounted for 3.4% of the reliable NSE variance (1.0% of the total variance) in parent-rated, symptoms of behaviour problems, 0.5% (0.1%) in teacher-rated symptoms and 0.9% (0.5%) in self-rated symptoms after controlling for genetics, shared environment and error of measurement. Cumulatively across development, our parent-rated NSE measures in preschool, childhood and adolescence predicted 4.7% of the NSE variance (2.0% of the total variance) in parent-rated and 0.3% (0.2%) in self-rated behaviour problem symptoms in adulthood. ConclusionsThe missing NSE gap between variance explained by measured environments and total NSE variance is large. Home and classroom environments are more likely to influence behaviour problem symptoms via genetics than via NSE.
Background Difficulties in appropriate social interaction are characteristic of both children with autism spectrum disorders and children with callous-unemotional traits (who are at risk of developing psychopathy). Extant experimental studies suggest that the nature of atypical social cognition that characterises these two profiles is not identical. However, 'empathizing' difficulties have been hypothesised for both groups, raising questions about the degree of aetiological separation between social impairments that characterize each disorder. This study explored the relative contribution of independent vs. shared aetiological influences to social and communication impairments associated with autistic traits and callous-unemotional traits, indexed by parent-report in a population-based cohort of twins. Methods Participants were over 5,000 twin pairs from a UK cohort (the Twins Early Development Study; TEDS), assessed for callous-unemotional traits at 7 years and autistic social and communication impairments at 8 years. Multivariate model-fitting was used to explore the relative contribution of independent vs. overlapping genetic/environmental influences on these traits. Results Both social and communication impairments and callous-unemotional traits were highly heritable, although the genetic and environmental influences accounting for individual differences on each domain were predominantly independent. Conclusions Extant evidence from experimental and neuro-imaging studies has suggested that, despite some superficially overlapping behaviours, the social difficulties seen in children with autism spectrum disorders and callous-unemotional traits are largely distinct. The current study is the first to demonstrate considerable aetiological independence of the social interaction difficulties seen in children with autism spectrum disorders and those with callous-unemotional traits.
Background There is evidence that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) co-occur with bipolar disorder (BD) relatively frequently. Individuals with BD often report symptoms of mania and hypomania during adolescence, prior to the age of onset for BD. It is unknown whether these symptoms are associated with ASDs. We examined whether diagnoses of ASDs and autistic traits were associated with hypomania in a large, population-based Swedish twin sample. Methods Parental structured interviews assessed autistic traits, and were used to assign screening diagnoses of ASDs, when twins were aged 9 or 12 (N = 13 533 pairs). Parents then completed questionnaires assessing hypomania when the twins were aged 15 and 18 (N = 3852 pairs at age 15, and 3013 pairs at age 18). After investigating the phenotypic associations between these measures, we used the classical twin design to test whether genetic and environmental influences on autistic traits influence variation in adolescent hypomania. Results Autistic traits and ASD diagnoses in childhood were associated with elevated scores on the measures of adolescent hypomania. Twin analyses indicated that 6-9% of the variance in hypomania was explained by genetic influences that were shared with autistic traits in childhood. When repeating these analyses for specific autistic trait domains, we found a stronger association between social interaction difficulties and hypomania than for other autistic trait domains. Conclusions These results indicate a genetic link between autistic traits and hypomania in adolescence. This adds to the growing evidence base of genetic factors associated with ASDs showing links with psychiatric outcomes across childhood and into adulthood. Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press.
Male preponderance in autistic behavioral impairment has been explained in terms of a hypothetical protective effect of female sex, yet little research has tested this hypothesis empirically. If females are protected, they should require greater etiologic load to manifest the same degree of impairment as males. The objective of this analysis was to examine whether greater familial etiologic load was associated with quantitative autistic impairments in females compared with males. Subjects included 3,842 dizygotic twin pairs from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) and 6,040 dizygotic twin pairs from the Child and Adolescent Twin Study of Sweden (CATSS). In both samples, we compared sibling autistic traits between female and male probands, who were identified as children scoring in the top 90th and 95th percentiles of the population autistic trait distributions. In both TEDS and CATSS, siblings of female probands above the 90th percentile had significantly more autistic impairments than the siblings of male probands above the 90th percentile. The siblings of female probands above the 90th percentile also had greater categorical recurrence risk in both TEDS and CATSS. Results were similar in probands above the 95th percentile. This finding, replicated across two nationally-representative samples, suggests that female sex protects girls from autistic impairments and that girls may require greater familial etiologic load to manifest the phenotype. It provides empirical support for the hypothesis of a female protective effect against autistic behavior and can be used to inform and interpret future gene finding efforts in autism spectrum disorders.
Context: Genetic factors play an important role in the etiology of both autism spectrum disorders and autistic traits. However, little is known about the etiologic consistency of autistic traits across levels of severity. Objective: To compare the etiology of typical variation in autistic traits with extreme scoring groups (including top 1%) that mimicked the prevalence of diagnosed autism spectrum disorders in the largest twin study of autistic traits to date. Design: Twin study using phenotypic analysis and genetic model-fitting in the total sample and extreme scoring groups (top 5%, 2.5%, and 1%). Setting: A nationally representative twin sample from the general population of England. Participants: The families of 5968 pairs aged 12 years old in the Twins' Early Development Study. Main Outcome Measure: Autistic traits as assessed by the Childhood Autism Spectrum Test. Results: Moderate to high heritability was found for autistic traits in the general population (53% for females and 72% for males). High heritability was found in extreme-scoring groups. There were no differences in heritability among extreme groups or between the extreme groups and the general population. A continuous liability shift toward autistic trait affectedness was seen in the cotwins of individuals scoring in the top 1%, suggesting shared etiology between extreme scores and normal variation. Conclusion: This evidence of similar etiology across normal variation and the extremes has implications for molecular genetic models of autism spectrum disorders and for conceptualizing autism spectrum disorders as the quantitative extreme of a neurodevelopmental continuum.
Background: High levels of clinical comorbidity have been reported between autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This study takes an individual differences approach to determine the degree of phenotypic and aetiological overlap between autistic traits and ADHD behaviours in the general population. Methods: The Twins Early Development Study is a community sample born in England and Wales. Families with twins born in 1994-6 were invited to join; 6,771 families participated in the study when the twins were 8 years old. Parents completed the Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test and the Conners' DSM-IV subscales. Teacher data were also collected on a sub-sample. High scores on the Conners' subscales were used to identify possible ADHD cases. Potential ASD cases were interviewed using the Development and Well-Being Assessment. Multivariate structural equation model-fitting was employed, as well as DeFries Fulker extremes analysis and liability threshold model-fitting. Results: Significant correlations were found between autistic and ADHD traits in the general population (.54 for parent data, .51 for teacher data). In the bivariate models, all genetic correlations were >.50, indicating a moderate degree of overlap in genetic influences on autistic and ADHD traits, both throughout the general population and at the quantitative extreme. This phenotypic and genetic overlap still held when sex, IQ and conduct problems were controlled for, for both parent and teacher data. There was also substantial overlap in suspected cases (41% of children who met criteria for an ASD had suspected ADHD; 22% with suspected ADHD met criteria for an ASD). Conclusions: These results suggest there are some common genetic influences operating across autistic traits and ADHD behaviours throughout normal variation and at the extreme. This is relevant for molecular genetic research, as well as for psychiatrists and psychologists, who may have assumed these two sets of behaviours are independent.
The psychopathology p factor has emerged from a series of strong empirical studies, largely in the adult psychiatry literature. Here, some of the recent findings relating to the p factor in children and adolescents are considered and the implications for child and adolescent psychiatry are discussed. Is it essential to covary for 'p' when we study specific domains of psychopathology? Do neurodevelopmental conditions make up part of the psychopathology p factor? How do we treat the 'p factor' in clinics? This editorial considers some of the contributions from this issue of Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry together with the wider literature that speak to these issues.
Polygenic scores estimate an individual's genetic liability for a particular disorder or trait. They are based on current knowledge of the trait's genetic architecture and focus on common genetic variants. In this editorial, I will discuss some of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) to polygenic scores within the context of child and adolescent psychiatry. I consider how the potential application of polygenic scores in health settings has some parallels with existing practices, but that polygenic scores also undoubtedly raise unique challenges. This SWOT analysis is accompanied by discussion of some new findings using polygenic scores in this issue of Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Intellectual performance is highly heritable and robustly predicts lifelong health and success but the earliest manifestations of genetic effects on this asset are not well understood. This study examined whether early executive function (EF) or verbal performance mediate genetic influences on subsequent intellectual performance, in 561 U.S.-based adoptees (57% male) and their birth and adoptive parents (70% and 92% White, 13% and 4% African American, 7% and 2% Latinx, respectively), administered measures in 2003-2017. Genetic influences on children's academic performance at 7 years were mediated by verbal performance at 4.5 years (β = .22, 95% CI [0.08, 0.35], p = .002) and not via EF, indicating that verbal performance is an early manifestation of genetic propensity for intellectual performance.
Sleep disturbances regularly co-occur with clinical psychotic disorders and dimensions of psychotic-like experiences (PLEs). One possible explanation for this, which has yet to be tested, is that similar genetic or environmental influences underlie sleep disturbances and vulnerability to PLEs. We conducted a twin study to test this possibility in relation to sleep disturbances and six specific PLEs in adolescence in the general population. Approximately 5,000 16-year-old twin pairs completed the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and Insomnia Severity Index. PLEs were assessed using the Specific PLEs Questionnaire, comprising five self-report subscales (Paranoia, Hallucinations, Cognitive Disorganization, Grandiosity, and Anhedonia) and one parent-report subscale (Negative Symptoms). The associations between these measures were tested using structural equation twin model fitting. Paranoia, Hallucinations, and Cognitive Disorganization displayed moderate and significant correlations with both sleep measures (0.32-.42), while Negative Symptoms, Anhedonia, and Grandiosity showed lower correlations (0.01-0.17). Genetic and environmental influences significantly overlapped across PLEs (Paranoia, Hallucinations, Cognitive Disorganization) and both types of sleep disturbance (mean genetic and nonshared environmental correlations = 0.54 and 0.24, respectively). These estimates reduced, yet remained significant, after controlling for negative affect. The association between PLEs with sleep disturbances in adolescence is partly due to genetic and environmental influences that are common to them both. These findings indicate that the known neurobiology of sleep disturbance may provide clues regarding the causes of PLEs in adolescence.
Internalizing difficulties are prevalent in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), yet little is known about the underlying cause of this comorbidity. It is also unclear which types of autistic-like and internalizing difficulties are most strongly associated. The current study investigated the phenotypic and etiological associations between specific autistic-like traits and internalizing traits within a population-based sample. Parent-reported data were analyzed from 7,311 twin pairs at age 7 to 8 years. Structural equation modeling revealed distinguishable patterns of overlap between the three autistic-like traits (social difficulties, communication problems and repetitive/restricted behaviors) and four subtypes of internalizing traits (social anxiety, fears, generalized anxiety, negative affect). Although all phenotypic associations were modest (rph = 0.00-0.36), autistic-like communication impairments and repetitive/restricted behaviors correlated most strongly with generalized anxiety and negative affect both phenotypically and genetically. Conversely, autistic-like social difficulties showed little overlap with internalizing behaviors. Disentangling these associations and their etiological underpinnings may help contribute to the conceptualization and diagnosis of 'comorbidity' within ASD and internalizing disorders.
Psychotic experiences of varying severity levels are common in adolescence. It is not known whether beyond a certain severity in the general population, psychotic experiences represent a categorically distinct phenomena to milder psychotic experiences. We employed taxometric analytic procedures to determine whether psychotic experiences in adolescence are taxonic (i.e. categorical) or dimensional. Six different psychotic experiences were assessed in a community sample of approximately 5000 adolescents. Three taxometric procedures were conducted. Across all procedures, there was no evidence of a taxon (i.e. a separate latent population) underlying psychotic experiences in adolescence. Rather, a dimensional structure was supported. The results support the notion that psychotic experiences are continuously distributed throughout the general population, and there is no clear discontinuity between milder and more severe psychotic experiences. Thus, these findings support the use of dimensional approaches to understanding psychotic experiences in etiological studies. In clinical practice, categorical cut-offs are needed: the present findings show that a 'natural' break point is not present for identifying severe psychotic experiences, and it is likely therefore that other criteria (such as general functioning) might better aid decision-making with regards to identifying individuals with severe psychotic experiences in need of care during adolescence. (C) 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license.
Increasing numbers of people are being referred for the assessment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The NICE (UK) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend gathering a developmental history using a tool that operationalises ICD/DSM criteria. However, the best-established diagnostic interview instruments are time consuming, costly and rarely used outside national specialist centres. What is needed is a brief, cost-effective measure validated in community settings. We tested the Development and Well-Being Assessment (DAWBA) for diagnosing ASD in a sample of children/adolescents representative of those presenting in community mental health settings. A general population sample of twins (TEDS) was screened and 276 adolescents were selected as at low (CAST score < 12; n = 164) or high risk for ASD (CAST score ≥ 15 and/or parent reported that ASD suspected/previously diagnosed; n = 112). Parents completed the ASD module of the DAWBA interview by telephone or online. Families were visited at home: the ADI-R and autism diagnostic observation schedule (ADOS) were completed to allow a best-estimate research diagnosis of ASD to be made. Development and Well-Being Assessment ASD symptom scores correlated highly with ADI-R algorithm scores (ρ = .82, p < .001). Good sensitivity (0.88) and specificity (0.85) were achieved using DAWBA computerised algorithms. Clinician review of responses to DAWBA questions minimally changed sensitivity (0.86) and specificity (0.87). Positive (0.82-0.95) and negative (0.90) predictive values were high. Eighty-six per cent of children were correctly classified. Performance was improved by using it in conjunction with the ADOS. The DAWBA is a brief structured interview that showed good sensitivity and specificity in this general population sample. It requires little training, is easy to administer (online or by interview) and diagnosis is aided by an algorithm. It holds promise as a tool for assisting with assessment in community settings and may help services implement the recommendations made by NICE and the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding diagnosis of young people on the autism spectrum.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are diagnosed when individuals show impairments in three behavioural domains: communication, social interactions, and repetitive, restrictive behaviours and interests (RRBIs). Recent data suggest that these three sets of behaviours are genetically heterogeneous. Early language delay is strongly associated with ASD, but the basis for this association and the relationship with individual sub-domains of ASD has not been systematically investigated. In the present study, data came from a population-based twin sample with language development data at 2-4 years, measured by the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory (MCDI), and data at 8 years using the Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test (CAST). For the total CAST and the three subscales at 8 years, approximately 300 same-sex twin pairs were selected as showing extreme autistic-like traits (ALTs), defined here as pairs in which at least one member of the twin pair scored in the highest 5% of the distribution. Phenotypic analyses indicated that children showing extreme social and communication ALTs (but not the RRBI subscale) at 8 years were below average in language development at 2-4 years. A regression model for selected twin data suggested that genetic influences account for this overlap, but that these effects are only in part mediated by genes that are shared between language and extreme autistic traits. Copyright (C) 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Background 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. Methods 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. Results We found that ADHD PGS were associated with earlier walking age (beta = -0.033, p(adj) < 0.001) in both males and females. Additionally, autism PGS were associated with later walking (beta = 0.039, p(adj) = 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. Conclusions 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.
Background. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and associated subclinical traits, regularly co-occur with one another. However, the aetiology of their co-occurrence remains poorly understood. This paper provides the first genetically informative, longitudinal analysis of the interaction between traits of ASD and ADHD, and explores their genetic and environmental overlap. Method. Parents of approximately 5000 twin pairs completed questionnaires assessing traits of ASD and ADHD when twins were aged 8 and 12 years. Cross-lagged longitudinal modelling explored their developmental association, enabling a consideration of phenotypic-driven processes. Overlapping aetiological influences on traits at age 12 years were explored using bivariate twin modelling. Results. Traits of ADHD at age 8 years were more strongly predictive of traits of ASD at 12 years than traits of ASD at 8 years were of traits of ADHD at 12 years. Analysis of traits by subscales assessing specific symptom domains suggested that communication difficulties were most strongly associated with traits of ADHD. Bivariate modelling suggested moderate genetic overlap on traits in males (genetic correlation=0.41), and a modest degree of overlap in females (genetic correlation=0.23) at age 12 years. Conclusions. Traits of ADHD at age 8 years significantly influence traits of ASD at age 12 years, after controlling for their initial relationship at age 8 years. In particular, early ADHD traits influenced later communication difficulties. These findings demonstrate the dynamic nature of co-occurring traits across development. In addition, these findings add to a growing body of literature suggesting that traits of ASD and ADHD may arise via similar aetiological processes.
a IMPORTANCE The onset of psychosis is usually preceded by psychotic experiences (PE). Little is known about the etiology of PE and whether the degree of genetic and environmental influences varies across different levels of severity. A recognized challenge is to identify individuals at high risk of developing psychotic disorders prior to disease onset. OBJECTIVES To investigate the degree of genetic and environmental influences on specific PE, assessed dimensionally, in adolescents in the community and in those who have many, frequent experiences (defined using quantitative cutoffs). We also assessed the degree of overlap in etiological influences between specific PE. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS Structural equation model-fitting, including univariate and bivariate twin models, liability threshold models, DeFries-Fulker extremes analysis, and the Cherny method, was used to analyze a representative community sample of 5059 adolescent twin pairs (mean [SD] age, 16.31 [0.68] years) from England and Wales. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES Psychotic experiences assessed as quantitative traits (self-rated paranoia, hallucinations, cognitive disorganization, grandiosity, and anhedonia, as well as parent-rated negative symptoms). RESULTS Genetic influences were apparent for all PE (15%-59%), with modest shared environment for hallucinations and negative symptoms (17%-24%) and significant nonshared environment (49%-64%) for the self-rated scales and 17% for parent-rated negative symptoms. Three empirical approaches converged to suggest that the etiology in extreme-scoring groups (most extreme scoring: 5%, 10%, and 15%) did not differ significantly from that of the whole distribution. There was no linear change in heritability across the distribution of PE, with the exception of a modest increase in heritability for increasing severity of parent-rated negative symptoms. Of the PE that showed covariation, this appeared to be due to shared genetic influences (bivariate heritabilities, 0.54-0.71). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE These findings are consistent with the concept of a psychosis continuum, suggesting that the same genetic and environmental factors influence both extreme, frequent PE and milder, less frequent manifestations in adolescents. Individual PE in adolescence, assessed quantitatively, have lower heritability estimates and higher estimates of nonshared environment than those for the liability to schizophrenia. Heritability varies by type of PE, being highest for paranoia and parent-rated negative symptoms and lowest for hallucinations.
IMPORTANCE: Exposure to bullying is associated with poor mental health. However, the degree to which observed associations reflect direct detrimental contributions of exposure to bullying to mental health remains uncertain, as noncausal relationships may arise from genetic and environmental confounding (eg, preexisting vulnerabilities). Determining to what extent exposure to bullying contributes to mental health is an important concern, with implications for primary and secondary interventions. OBJECTIVE: To characterize the concurrent and longitudinal contribution of exposure to bullying to mental health in childhood and adolescence using a twin differences design to strengthen causal inference. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Participants were drawn from the Twins Early Development Study, a population-based cohort recruited from population records of births in England and Wales between January 1, 1994, and December 31, 1996. Data collection took place when the participants were between 11 and 16 years of age from December 1, 2005, to January 31, 2013. Data analysis was conducted from January 1, 2016, to June 20, 2017. EXPOSURES: Participants completed the Multidimensional Peer-Victimization Scale at 11 and 14 years of age. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Mental health assessments at 11 and 16 years of age included anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and impulsivity, inattention, conduct problems, and psychotic-like experiences (eg, paranoid thoughts or cognitive disorganization). RESULTS: The 11108 twins included in the final sample (5894 girls and 5214 boys) were a mean age of 11.3 years at the first assessment and 16.3 years at the last assessment. The most stringent twin differences estimates (monozygotic) were consistent with causal contribution of exposure to bullying at 11 years to concurrent anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and impulsivity, inattention, and conduct problems. Effects decreased over time; that is, substantial concurrent contributions to anxiety (beta = 0.27; 95% CI, 0.22-0.33) persisted for 2 years (beta = 0.12; 95% CI, 0.04-0.20) but not 5 years. Direct contributions to paranoid thoughts and cognitive disorganization persisted for 5 years. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: This study is the largest to date to characterize the contribution of exposure to bullying in childhood to mental health using a twin differences design and multi-informant, multiscale data. Stringent evidence of the direct detrimental contribution of exposure to bullying in childhood to mental health is provided. Findings also suggest that childhood exposure to bullying may partly be viewed as a symptom of preexisting vulnerabilities. Finally, the dissipation of effects over time for many outcomes highlights the potential for resilience in children who were bullied. In addition to programs that aim to reduce exposure to bullying, interventions may benefit from addressing preexisting vulnerabilities and focus on resilience.
For most complex traits, DNA-based heritability ('SNP heritability') is roughly half that of twin-based heritability. A previous report from the Twins Early Development Study suggested that this heritability gap is much greater for childhood behaviour problems than for other domains. If true, this finding is important because SNP heritability, not twin heritability, is the ceiling for genome-wide association studies. With twice the sample size as the previous report, we estimated SNP heritabilities (N up to 4653 unrelated individuals) and compared them with twin heritabilities from the same sample (N up to 4724 twin pairs) for diverse domains of childhood behaviour problems as rated by parents, teachers, and children themselves at ages 12 and 16. For 37 behaviour problem measures, the average twin heritability was 0.52, whereas the average SNP heritability was just 0.06. In contrast, results for cognitive and anthropometric traits were more typical (average twin and SNP heritabilities were 0.58 and 0.28, respectively). Future research should continue to investigate the reasons why SNP heritabilities for childhood behaviour problems are so low compared with twin estimates, and find ways to maximise SNP heritability for genome-wide association studies.
We aimed to characterize multiple psychotic experiences, each assessed on a spectrum of severity (ie, quantitatively), in a general population sample of adolescents. Over five thousand 16-year-old twins and their parents completed the newly devised Specific Psychotic Experiences Questionnaire (SPEQ); a subsample repeated it approximately 9 months later. SPEQ was investigated in terms of factor structure, intersubscale correlations, frequency of endorsement and reported distress, reliability and validity, associations with traits of anxiety, depression and personality, and sex differences. Principal component analysis revealed a 6-component solution: paranoia, hallucinations, cognitive disorganization, grandiosity, anhedonia, and parent-rated negative symptoms. These components formed the basis of 6 subscales. Correlations between different experiences were low to moderate. All SPEQ subscales, except Grandiosity, correlated significantly with traits of anxiety, depression, and neuroticism. Scales showed good internal consistency, test-retest reliability, and convergent validity. Girls endorsed more paranoia, hallucinations, and cognitive disorganization; boys reported more grandiosity and anhedonia and had more parent-rated negative symptoms. As in adults at high risk for psychosis and with psychotic disorders, psychotic experiences in adolescents are characterized by multiple components. The study of psychotic experiences as distinct dimensional quantitative traits is likely to prove an important strategy for future research, and the SPEQ is a self- and parent-report questionnaire battery that embodies this approach.
Background: This study aimed to test the validity of using the Hypomania Checklist-16 [HCL-16] to measure hypomania in a British adolescent community sample. Limited research is available concerning the characterization of hypomania among community adolescent samples, particularly in the UK, despite it,: potential importance for early intervention policy development. Method: To explore the structure and characterization of hypomania in a British adolescent nonclinical cohort. over 1400 17 year olds (Mean=17.05 years; SD=0.88) completed the HCL-16 along with measures of different psychological and psychopathological dimensions. Results: Principal components analysis revealed a 2-component solution for the HCL-16, described as active elated and irritable/risk-taking. Hypomanic symptoms were significantly correlated with many psychopathological dimensions. There were distinct correlation patterns for the two HCL-16 subscales, with the irritability/ risk-taking subscale showing significantly stronger associations with psychotic-like experiences, internalizing and externalizing problems, and reduced life satisfaction relative to the active-elated dimension. Adolescents at `high-risk' for bipolar disorder reported more psychopathology relative to the comparison group. Limitations: Absence of the clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder in the sample means that the classification of the 'high-risk' group cannot be confirmed. Conclusions: The structure of the HCL-16 in this UK adolescent sample mirrored that observed in adult and clinical cohorts. The observed links between the HCL-16 and psychopathological dimensions that have been previously associated with both hypomania and bipolar disorder lend support to the HCL-16's validity as a hypomania instrument for adolescents. Better understanding of hypomania prior to adulthood has considerable potential for informing early intervention approaches.
As a dynamic, interdisciplinary field, behavior genetics and its evolution are being followed closely by scientists across the psychological and medical domains. The discoveries surrounding the human genome and the advancement in molecular genetic technologies have led to studies becoming increasingly sophisticated and yielding yet more conclusive and useful results. This is certainly the case in the area of child and adult psychopathology. Behavior Genetics of Psychopathology summarizes the state of the field, examining the role of genes and environment as they affect common neurodevelopmental and psychiatric conditions. Emphasizing key research areas (comorbidities, twin studies, the integration of methods), the book assesses the current literature, offers up-to-date findings, sorts through lingering controversies, and identifies a clear future agenda for the field. Expertly-written chapters focus on issues of general salience that shape behavior genetics of psychopathology, as well as specific disorders of major clinical importance, among them: ADHD: the view from quantitative genetic research. Autism spectrum disorders and their complex heterogeneity Genetic influences on anxiety and depression in childhood and adolescence. Evidence for etiologically-defined subgroups within the construct of antisocial behavior. Sleep and psychopathology: the reasons for their co-occurrence. Behavioral genetic approaches to the etiology of comorbidity. Epigenetics of psychopathology. This combination of timeliness and depth of coverage make Behavior Genetics of Psychopathology a frontline resource for behavior geneticists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists, and is perfectly suited to graduate students looking to join these fields.
Growing evidence indicates that the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are distributed throughout the general population; hence, understanding the correlates of aging in people with high autistic traits could shed light on ASD and aging. 915 members of the Dunedin longitudinal birth cohort completed a measure of autistic traits at age 45. A composite measure of the "pace of aging" was derived by tracking the decline in 19 biomarkers across ages 26, 32, 38, and 45 years. Facial age was also assessed. Reports of perceived health were collected from participants themselves, informants, and interviewers. Higher self-reported autistic traits significantly correlated with a faster pace of aging, older facial age, and poorer self-, informant-, and interviewer-rated health. After control for sex, SES and IQ, autistic traits were significantly associated with each variable: pace of aging (beta = 0.09), facial age (beta = 0.08), self- (beta = -0.15), informant (beta = -0.12), and interviewer-rated (beta = -0.17) health. Autistic traits measured at age 45 are associated with faster aging. Participants with high autistic traits appear to be more vulnerable to poor health outcomes, as previously reported for those clinically diagnosed with ASD. Therefore, autistic traits may have important health implications. Replicating these findings in samples of autistic people is needed to identify the mechanism of their effect on aging and physical health to improve outcomes for those with ASD diagnoses or high autistic traits. Lay Summary The role that autistic traits have in relation to health outcomes has not been investigated. We looked at how physical health and aging (measured with self-reported questions and decline in multiple biological measures) were related to autistic traits (measured with a questionnaire, at age 45). We found that higher autistic traits were associated with poorer reports of physical health, and a faster pace of aging. This suggests that both those with autism and those with higher autistic traits may be more likely to experience poorer health outcomes.
Objective: Recent studies have highlighted the impact of coexisting mental health problems in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). No twin studies to date have reported on individuals meeting diagnostic criteria of ASD. This twin study reports on the etiological overlap between the diagnosis of ASD and emotional symptoms, hyperactivity, and conduct problems measured with the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Method: Genetic and environmental influences on the covariance between ASD and coexisting problems were estimated, in line with the correlated risks model prediction. Phenotypic causality models were also fitted to explore alternative explanations of comorbidity: namely, that coexisting problems are the result of or result in ASD symptoms; that they increase recognition of ASD; or that they arise due to an over-observation bias/confusion when differentiating between phenotypes. Results: More than 50% of twins with broad spectrum/ASD met the borderline/abnormal levels cut-off criteria for emotional symptoms or hyperactivity, and approximately 25% met these criteria for the 3 reported problems. In comparison, between 13% and 16% of unaffected twins scored above the cut-offs. The phenotypic correlation between ASD and emotional symptoms was explained entirely by genetic influences and accompanied by a moderate genetic correlation (0.42). The opposite was true for the overlap with conduct problems, as nonshared-environmental factors had the strongest impact. For hyperactivity, the best-fitting model suggested a unidirectional phenotypic influence of hyperactivity on ASD. Conclusion: Our findings suggest a possible effect of hyperactivity on identification of ASD. The lack of genetic influences on conduct problems ASD overlap further supports the genetic independence of these 2 phenotypes. Finally, the co-occurrence of emotional symptoms in ASD, compared to other co-occurring problems, is completely explained by common genetic effects.
Researchers continue to pursue a better understanding of the symptoms, comorbidities, and causes of autism spectrum disorders. In this article we review more than 30 twin studies of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and autistic traits published in the last decade that have contributed to this endeavor. These twin studies have reported on the heritability of autism spectrum disorders and autistic traits in different populations and using different measurement and age groups. These studies have also stimulated debate and new hypotheses regarding why ASDs show substantial symptom heterogeneity, and what causes their comorbidity with intellectual disability, language delay, and other psychiatric disorders such as ADHD. These studies also reveal that the etiology of autism and autistic traits assessed in the general population is more similar than different, which contributes to the question of where the boundary lies between autism and typical development. Recent findings regarding molecular genetic and environmental causes of autism are discussed in the relation to these twin studies. Lastly, methodological assumptions of the twin design are given consideration, as well as issues of measurement. Future research directions are suggested to ensure that this decade is as productive as the last in attempting to disentangle the causes of autism spectrum disorders. (C) 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a strong genetic basis. Recent studies have suggested that its aetiology is also influenced by environmental factors. Some of the most examined environmental factors are obstetric complications. However, the results are inconsistent. We aimed to explore the association between obstetric complications and autism in a population-based twin sample using the Obstetric Enquiry Scale (OES), a scale that measures the presence or absence of pre-, peri- and neonatal factors. Additionally, we report the meta-analytic results for obstetrical factors reported in previously published sibling studies. Our study included 115 cases pairs and 62 controls pairs and showed that children with autism and their unaffected co-twins present significantly more obstetric complications than controls (ASD vs. controls β 1.26, CI 95% 1.11-1.40 p
There is increasing concern regarding additional psychiatric problems that co-occur with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as reflected in recent changes to diagnostic schemes. However, there remains little research with population-based samples across childhood. We report on additional problems, as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, in a population-based sample of 135 twins with ASD, 55 non-ASD co-twins, and 144 comparison twins low in ASD traits. Frequencies, associated demographic factors, and changes in mental health difficulties from age 4 to 13 years are presented. Our data confirm the high rates of additional difficulties reported in previous studies, and suggest that the profile, associated risk factors and longitudinal course of additional difficulties in ASD may differ from those in typically-developing populations.
Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been linked with eating- and feeding-related atypicalities, including food neophobia (FN) (refusal to try unfamiliar foods), since its earliest description. Nevertheless, whether associations between ASD traits and FN extend subclinically into the broader population of children and their potential additive health impacts remains unexplored. Objective: We examined ASD-control group differences in FN and ASD trait-FN trait associations, as well as the ability of FN and autistic traits to predict one index of later health-related outcomes [body mass index (BMI)]. Design: Participants in the present study were a large community-based sample of 8- to 11-y-olds (n = 4564), including a relatively small group of children diagnosed with ASD (n = 37). Parents of these 8- to 11-y-old children completed assessments of FN and autistic traits and provided height and weight metrics at 12 y of age. Results: Children with ASD were rated as more food neophobic than their same-age non-ASD peers (2.67 +/- 0.83 compared with 2.22 +/- 0.73; P < 0.001), and there were subclinical associations between FN and ASD traits (social, communication, and restricted/repetitive behavior) in this community-based sample of children (P < 0.05). Moreover, whereas FN alone predicted lower BMI, the interaction of FN and ASD traits predicted higher BMI (P
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder are highly comorbid, with significantly associated symptoms. The mechanisms that account for their co-occurrence are not known. To examine the degree to which genetic and environmental risk factors for ADHD traits, across childhood and adolescence, are associated with adolescent hypomanic symptoms. This study used data on 13 532 twin pairs from the Child and Adolescent Twin Study in Sweden, a prospective, longitudinal twin study. Their parents provided ADHD data when children were 9 or 12 years of age. Of those who reached 15 years of age, 3784 participated. Of those who reached 18 years of age, 3013 participated. The study was performed from December 20, 2017, to December 5, 2018. Data analysis was performed at the Department of Medical Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, from March 1, 2018, to October 31, 2018. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder traits and hypomanic symptoms were assessed using parent-rated instruments. Associations between ADHD and adolescent hypomanic symptoms across childhood and adolescence were investigated using generalized estimating equations. Multivariate twin models were used to examine the extent to which genetic and environmental risk factors for ADHD were associated with hypomania. Among 3784 15-year-old twin pairs and 3013 18-year-old twin pairs, ADHD and hypomanic symptoms were significantly associated (age 15 years: β = 0.30; 95% CI, 0.24-0.34; P
IMPORTANCE Subsyndromal hypomanic symptoms are relatively common in the general population and are linked to the onset of bipolar disorder. Little is known about their etiology and whether this is shared with the etiology of bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses. OBJECTIVE To examine the genetic and environmental architecture of hypomanic symptoms in a nonclinical youth sample and compare estimates at varying severity levels and their association with diagnosed bipolar disorder. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS This cohort study used phenotypic and genetic data from the Child and Adolescent Twin Study in Sweden and included individuals with International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision diagnosis of psychiatric disorders from national registries for residents of Sweden. Associations between hypomania and polygenic risk scores for bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia were also investigated. Analysis began November 2018 and ended October 2021. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES Hypomanic symptomswere assessed using the parent-rated Mood Disorders Questionnaire when the twins were aged 18 years. Bipolar disorder diagnosis and/or lithium prescription were ascertained from national registries for residents of Sweden. Polygenic risk scores for psychiatric disorders were calculated using independent discovery genetic data. RESULTS A total of 8568 twin pairs aged 18 years (9381 [54.7%] female) were included in the study. The hypomania heritability estimate was 59% (95% CI, 52%-64%) for male individuals and 29% (95% CI, 16%-44%) for female individuals. Unique environmental factors accounted for 41% (95% CI, 36%-47%) of the hypomania variance in male individuals and 45%(95% CI, 40%-50%) in female individuals. Shared environmental factors were only detected for female individuals and explained 26%(95% CI, 13%-38%) of the variance. The heritability estimates were fairly consistent across different hypomania severity groups. Moderate genetic (0.40; 95% CI, 0.21-0.58) and shared environmental (0.41; 95% CI, 0.03-0.75) correlations between hypomania and diagnosed bipolar disorder were found. Hypomania was significantly associated with the polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia (beta = 0.08; SE = 0.026; P =.002) and major depressive disorder (beta = 0.09; SE = 0.027; P =.001) but not bipolar disorder (beta = 0.017; SE = 0.03; P = 0.57) (bipolar disorder I [beta = 0.014; SE = 0.029; P =.64] or bipolar disorder II [beta = 0.045; SE = 0.027; P =.10]). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE Higher heritability for hypomania was found for male compared with female individuals. The results highlight the shared etiologies between hypomanic symptoms, bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia in youths. Future research should focus on identifying specific shared genetic and environmental factors. These findings support a possible dimensional model of bipolar disorder, with hypomania representing a continuous trait underlying the disorder.
Background Stressful life events (SLEs) are associated with psychotic experiences. SLEs might act as an environmental risk factor, but may also share a genetic propensity with psychotic experiences. Aims To estimate the extent to which genetic and environmental factors influence the relationship between SLEs and psychotic experiences. Method Self-and parent reports from a community-based twin sample (4830 16-year-old pairs) were analysed using structural equation model fitting. Results SLEs correlated with positive psychotic experiences (r = 0.12-0.14, all P
Background Autism is associated with intellectual disability. The strength and origin of this association is unclear. Aims To investigate the association between extreme autistic traits and intellectual disability in children from a community-based sample and to examine whether the association can be explained by genetic factors. Method Children scoring in the extreme 5% on measures of autistic traits, IQ and academic achievement were selected from 7965 7/8-year-old and 3687 9-year-old twin pairs. Phenotypic associations between extreme autistic traits and intellectual disability were compared with associations among the full-range scores. Genetic correlations were estimated using bivariate DeFries-Fulker extremes analyses. Results Extreme autistic traits were modestly related to intellectual disability; this association was driven by communication problems characteristic of autism. Although this association was largely explained by genetic factors, the genetic correlation between autistic traits and intellectual disability was only modest. Conclusions Extreme autistic traits are substantially genetically independent of intellectual disability.
Difficulties in social communication are part of the phenotypic overlap between autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and schizophrenia. Both conditions follow, however, distinct developmental patterns. Symptoms of ASD typically occur during early childhood, whereas most symptoms characteristic of schizophrenia do not appear before early adulthood. We investigated whether overlap in common genetic influences between these clinical conditions and impairments in social communication depends on the developmental stage of the assessed trait. Social communication difficulties were measured in typically-developing youth (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, N. 5553, longitudinal assessments at 8, 11, 14 and 17 years) using the Social Communication Disorder Checklist. Data on clinical ASD (PGC-ASD: 5305 cases, 5305 pseudo-controls; iPSYCH-ASD: 7783 cases, 11 359 controls) and schizophrenia (PGC-SCZ2:34 241 cases, 45 604 controls, 1235 trios) were either obtained through the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC) or the Danish iPSYCH project. Overlap in genetic influences between ASD and social communication difficulties during development decreased with age, both in the PGC-ASD and the iPSYCH-ASD sample. Genetic overlap between schizophrenia and social communication difficulties, by contrast, persisted across age, as observed within two independent PGC-SCZ2 subsamples, and showed an increase in magnitude for traits assessed during later adolescence. ASD- and schizophrenia-related polygenic effects were unrelated to each other and changes in trait-disorder links reflect the heterogeneity of genetic factors influencing social communication difficulties during childhood versus later adolescence. Thus, both clinical ASD and schizophrenia share some genetic influences with impairments in social communication, but reveal distinct developmental profiles in their genetic links, consistent with the onset of clinical symptoms.
Many statistical tests rely on the assumption that the residuals of a model are normally distributed. Rank-based inverse normal transformation (INT) of the dependent variable is one of the most popular approaches to satisfy the normality assumption. When covariates are included in the analysis, a common approach is to first adjust for the covariates and then normalize the residuals. This study investigated the effect of regressing covariates against the dependent variable and then applying rank-based INT to the residuals. The correlation between the dependent variable and covariates at each stage of processing was assessed. An alternative approach was tested in which rank-based INT was applied to the dependent variable before regressing covariates. Analyses based on both simulated and real data examples demonstrated that applying rank-based INT to the dependent variable residuals after regressing out covariates re-introduces a linear correlation between the dependent variable and covariates, increasing type-I errors and reducing power. On the other hand, when rank-based INT was applied prior to controlling for covariate effects, residuals were normally distributed and linearly uncorrelated with covariates. This latter approach is therefore recommended in situations were normality of the dependent variable is required.
Psychosis has been hypothesised to be a continuously distributed quantitative phenotype and disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder represent its extreme manifestations. Evidence suggests that common genetic variants play an important role in liability to both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Here we tested the hypothesis that these common variants would also influence psychotic experiences measured dimensionally in adolescents in the general population. Our aim was to test whether schizophrenia and bipolar disorder polygenic risk scores (PRS), as well as specific single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) previously identified as risk variants for schizophrenia, were associated with adolescent dimension-specific psychotic experiences. Self-reported Paranoia, Hallucinations, Cognitive Disorganisation, Grandiosity, Anhedonia, and Parent-rated Negative Symptoms, as measured by the Specific Psychotic Experiences Questionnaire (SPEQ), were assessed in a community sample of 2, 152 16-year-olds. Polygenic risk scores were calculated using estimates of the log of odds ratios from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium GWAS stage-1 mega-analysis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The polygenic risk analyses yielded no significant associations between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder PRS and the SPEQ measures. The analyses on the 28 individual SNPs previously associated with schizophrenia found that two SNPs in TCF4 returned a significant association with the SPEQ Paranoia dimension, rs17512836 (p-value = 2.57x10(-4)) and rs9960767 (p-value = 6.23x10(-4)). Replication in an independent sample of 16-year-olds (N = 3,427) assessed using the Psychotic-Like Symptoms Questionnaire (PLIKS-Q), a composite measure of multiple positive psychotic experiences, failed to yield significant results. Future research with PRS derived from larger samples, as well as larger adolescent validation samples, would improve the predictive power to test these hypotheses further. The challenges of relating adult clinical diagnostic constructs such as schizophrenia to adolescent psychotic experiences at a genetic level are discussed.
There is accumulating evidence that autistic traits (AT) are on a continuum in the general population, with clinical autism representing the extreme end of a quantitative distribution. While the nature and severity of symptoms in clinical autism are known to persist over time, no study has examined the long-term stability of AT among typically developing toddlers. The current investigation measured AT in 360 males and 400 males from the general population close to two decades apart, using the Pervasive Developmental Disorder subscale of the Child Behavior Checklist in early childhood (M = 2.14 years; SD = 0.15), and the Autism-Spectrum Quotient in early adulthood (M = 19.50 years; SD = 0.70). Items from each scale were further divided into social (difficulties with social interaction and communication) and non-social (restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests) AT. The association between child and adult measurements of AT as well the influence of potentially confounding sociodemographic, antenatal and obstetric variables were assessed using Pearson's correlations and linear regression. For males, Total AT in early childhood were positively correlated with total AT (r = .16, p = .002) and social AT (r = .16, p = .002) in adulthood. There was also a positive correlation for males between social AT measured in early childhood and Total (r = .17, p = .001) and social AT (r = .16, p = .002) measured in adulthood. Correlations for non-social AT did not achieve significance in males. Furthermore, there was no significant longitudinal association in AT observed for males or females. Despite the constraints of using different measures and different raters at the two ages, this study found modest developmental stability of social AT from early childhood to adulthood in boys.
Background: Impairments in language and communication are core features of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The basis for this association is poorly understood. How early language is related to each of the triad of impairments characteristic of ASDs is also in need of clarification. Aims: This is the first study that aims to determine the extent to which shared genetic and environmental factors underlie the association between early language performance and autistic-like traits (ALTs) in middle childhood. Methods & Procedures: Data came from a population-based twin sample (n = 6087 pairs) assessed prospectively at 2, 3, 4 and 8 years. ALTs measured by the Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test (CAST) at 8 years were investigated in relation to language assessed by the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory (CDI) at 2, 3 and 4 years. Multivariate model fitting techniques were used to analyse the origins of this association. Outcomes & Results: Total CAST scores, as well as Social and Communication subscales, at 8 years were weakly but significantly negatively correlated with language ability at 2, 3 and 4 years. Correlations between language and restrictive and repetitive behaviours and interests (RRBI) were not significant. The phenotypic correlations between language and Social and Communication ALTs were almost entirely mediated by shared genetic influences. There were specific genetic influences on early language that were not shared with ALTs, and specific genetic influences on ALTs not shared with earlier language performance. Conclusions: This is the first study to demonstrate shared genetic influences in relation to language performance as an early antecedent of later ALTs. These results support the idea that the triad of core features in ALTs are aetiologically heterogeneous, with early language relating to social and communication impairments but not RRBIs.
Objective: Psychotic experiences (PE) are dimensional phenomena in the general population that resemble psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia and hallucinations. This is the first twin study to explore the degree to which tobacco use and PE share genetic or environmental influences. Previous studies on the association between adolescent tobacco use and PE have not considered PE dimensionally, included negative symptoms, or accounted for confounding by sleep disturbance and stressful life events. Method: An unselected adolescent twin sample (N = 3,787 pairs; mean age = 16.16 years) reported on PE (paranoia, hallucinations, cognitive disorganization, grandiosity, and anhedonia) and regularity of tobacco use. Parents rated the twins' negative symptoms. Regression analyses were conducted while adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics, prenatal maternal smoking, cannabis use, sleep disturbance, and stressful life events. Bivariate twin modeling was used to estimate the degree of genetic and common and unique environmental influences shared between tobacco use and PE. Results: Regular smokers were significantly more likely to experience paranoia, hallucinations, cognitive disorganization, and negative symptoms (beta = 0.17-0.34), but not grandiosity or anhedonia, than nonsmokers, after adjustment for confounders. Paranoia, hallucinations, and cognitive disorganization correlated >= 0.15 with tobacco use (r = 0.15-0.21, all p < .001). Significant genetic correlations (r(A) =0.37 -0.45) were found. Genetic influences accounted for most of the association between tobacco use and paranoia (84%) and cognitive disorganization (81%). Familial influences accounted for 80% of the association between tobacco use and hallucinations. Conclusion: Tobacco use and PE during adolescence were associated after adjustment for confounders. They appear to co-occur largely because of shared genetic influences.
This study aimed to identify empirically the number of factors underlying autism symptoms-social impairments, communication impairments, and restricted repetitive behaviors and interests-when assessed in a general population sample. It also investigated to what extent these autism symptoms are caused by the same or different genetic and environmental influences. Autistic symptoms were assessed in a population-based twin cohort of >12,000 (9- and 12-year-old) children by parental interviews. Confirmatory factor analyses, principal component analyses and multivariate structural equation model fitting were carried out. A multiple factor solution was suggested, with nearly all analyses pointing to a three-factor model for both boys and girls and at both ages. A common pathway twin model fit the data best, which showed that there were some underlying common genetic and environmental influences across the different autism dimensions, but also significant specific genetic effects on each symptom type. These results suggest that the autism triad consists of three partly independent dimensions when assessed in the general population, and that these different autism symptoms, to a considerable extent, have partly separate genetic influences. These findings may explain the large number of children who do not meet current criteria for autism but who show some autism symptoms. Molecular genetic research may benefit from taking a symptom-specific approach to finding genes associated with autism.
In the present study we investigated phenotypic agreement between informants (parent, teacher and child self-report) on ratings of autistic-like traits and compared the genetic and environmental aetiologies of the informants' ratings and of their covariance. Parents and teachers of >2,500 pairs from a community twin sample completed an abbreviated Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test (CAST). The twins also completed an adapted self-report version of the CAST. Structural equation model-fitting was carried out. Correlations between raters were significant but moderate (0.16-0.33). The magnitude of heritability estimates of autistic-like traits varied across raters, being highest for parent-rated autistic-like traits (82-87%) and more modest for child self-reported autistic-like traits (36-47%). Genetic overlap was significant but moderate across all raters. These findings are discussed in relation to population screening for autism and future genetic research.
Background: Childhood emotional and behaviour problems are antecedents for later psychopathology. This study investigated genetic and environmental influences shaping the longitudinal association between childhood emotional and behaviour problems and specific PEs. Method: In a community-based twin sample, parents reported on emotional and behaviour problems when twins were ages 7 and 12 years. At age 16 years, specific PEs were measured using self-reports and parent reports. Structural equationmodel-fitting was conducted. Results: Childhood emotional and behaviour problems were significantly associated with paranoia, cognitive disorganisation and parent-rated negative symptoms in adolescence (mean r=.15-.38), and to a lesser extent with hallucinations, grandiosity and anhedonia (mean r=.04-.12). Genetic influences on childhood emotional and behaviour problems explained significant proportions of variance in adolescent paranoia (4%), cognitive disorganisation (8%) and parent-rated negative symptoms (3%). Unique environmental influences on childhood emotional and behaviour problems explained 1% of variance in PEs. Common environmental influences were only relevant for the relationship between childhood emotional and behaviour problems and parent-rated negative symptoms (explaining 28% of variance) and are partly due to correlated rater effects. Conclusions: Childhood emotional and behaviour problems are significantly, if weakly, associated with adolescent PEs. These associations are driven in part by common genetic influences underlying both emotional and behaviour problems and PEs. However, psychotic experiences in adolescence are largely influenced by genetic and environmental factors that are independent of general childhood emotional and behaviour problems, suggesting they are not merely an extension of childhood emotional and behaviour problems.
Autistic traits—social impairment, communication impairment, and restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests—are heritable in the general population. Previous analyses have consistently reported limited genetic and environmental overlap between autistic trait domains in samples assessed in middle childhood. Here we extend this research to parent-report data for 12-year-olds. Data from 5,944 pairs in the Twins Early Development Study were analyzed to explore the domain-specific heritability and degree of shared genetic and environmental influences across different autistic traits in the general population and among individuals scoring in the top 5% of each domain. Sex differences in the etiological estimates were also tested in these analyses. Autistic traits were moderately to highly heritable (0.58–0.88) at age 12. Bivariate genetic correlations in the full sample (0.18–0.40) and the extremes (0.24–0.67), as well as even lower unique environmental correlations, all suggested considerable fractionation of genetic and environmental influences across autistic trait domains, in line with previous findings.
A systematic understanding of the aetiology of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) and their co-occurrence with other conditions during childhood and adolescence remains incomplete. In the current meta-analysis, we synthesized the literature on (1) the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to NDDs, (2) the genetic and environmental overlap between different NDDs, and (3) the co-occurrence between NDDs and disruptive, impulse control and conduct disorders (DICCs). Searches were conducted across three platforms: Web of Science, Ovid Medline and Ovid Embase. Studies were included only if 75% or more of the sample consisted of children and/or adolescents and the studies had measured the aetiology of NDDs and DICCs using single-generation family designs or genomic methods. Studies that had selected participants on the basis of unrelated diagnoses or injuries were excluded. We performed multilevel, random-effects meta-analyses on 296 independent studies, including over four million (partly overlapping) individuals. We further explored developmental trajectories and the moderating roles of gender, measurement, geography and ancestry. We found all NDDs to be substantially heritable (family-based heritability, 0.66 (s.e. = 0.03); SNP heritability, 0.19 (s.e. = 0.03)). Meta-analytic genetic correlations between NDDs were moderate (grand family-based genetic correlation, 0.36 (s.e. = 0.12); grand SNP-based genetic correlation, 0.39 (s.e. = 0.19)) but differed substantially between pairs of disorders. The genetic overlap between NDDs and DICCs was strong (grand family-based genetic correlation, 0.62 (s.e. = 0.20)). While our work provides evidence to inform and potentially guide clinical and educational diagnostic procedures and practice, it also highlights the imbalance in the research effort that has characterized developmental genetics research.
Background: This twin study investigated whether autistic traits during childhood were associated with adolescent psychotic experiences. Methods: Data were collected from a community sample of approximately 5000 twin pairs, which included 32 individuals with diagnosed autism spectrum conditions (ASC). Parents rated autistic traits in the twins at four points between ages 8-16 years. Positive, negative, and cognitive psychotic experiences were assessed at age 16 years using self-and parent-report scales. Longitudinal twin analyses tested the associations between these measures. Results: Autistic traits correlated weakly or nonsignificantly with positive psychotic experiences (paranoia, hallucinations, and grandiosity), and modestly with cognitive psychotic experiences (cognitive disorganisation). Higher correlations were observed for parent-rated negative symptoms and self-reported anhedonia, although the proportion of variance in both accounted for by autistic traits was low (10 and 31 %, respectively). The majority of the genetic influences on negative symptoms and anhedonia were independent of autistic traits. Additionally, individuals with ASC displayed significantly more negative symptoms, anhedonia, and cognitive disorganisation than controls. Conclusions: Autistic traits do not appear to be strongly associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence; associations were also largely restricted to negative symptoms. Of note, the degree to which the genetic and environmental causes of autistic traits influenced psychotic experiences was limited. These findings thus support a phenotypic and etiological distinction between autistic traits and psychotic experiences.
Two separate genome-wide association studies were conducted to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with social and nonsocial autistic-like traits. We predicted that we would find SNPs associated with social and non-social autistic-like traits and that different SNPs would be associated with social and nonsocial. In Stage 1, each study screened for allele frequency differences in ~430,000 autosomal SNPs using pooled DNA on microarrays in high-scoring versus low-scoring boys from a general population sample ( N = ~400/group). In Stage 2, 22 and 20 SNPs in the social and non-social studies, respectively, were tested for QTL association by individually genotyping an independent community sample of 1,400 boys. One SNP (rs11894053) was nominally associated ( P
A genetically informed cross-lagged model was applied to twin data to explore etiological links between autistic-like traits and affective problems in early childhood. The sample comprised 310 same-sex twin pairs (143 monozygotic and 167 dizygotic; 53 % male). Autistic-like traits and affective problems were assessed at ages 2 and 3 using parent ratings. Both constructs were related within and across age (r = 0.30-0.53) and showed moderate stability (r = 0.45-0.54). Autistic-like traits and affective problems showed genetic and environmental influences at both ages. Whereas at age 2, the covariance between autistic-like traits and affective problems was entirely due to environmental influences (shared and nonshared), at age 3, genetic factors also contributed to the covariance between constructs. The stability paths, but not the cross-lagged paths, were significant, indicating that there is stability in both autistic-like traits and affective problems but they do not mutually influence each other across age. Stability effects were due to genetic, shared, and nonshared environmental influences. Substantial novel genetic and nonshared environmental influences emerge at age 3 and suggest change in the etiology of these constructs over time. During early childhood, autistic-like traits tend to occur alongside affective problems and partly overlapping genetic and environmental influences explain this association.
Abstract We present a systematic review of genome-wide research on psychotic experience and negative symptom (PENS) traits in the community. We integrate these new findings, most of which have emerged over the last four years, with more established behaviour genetic and epidemiological research. The review includes the first genome-wide association studies of PENS, including a recent meta-analysis, and the first SNP heritability estimates. Sample sizes of
Bullying is a risk factor for developing psychotic experiences (PEs). Whether bullying is associated with particular PEs, and the extent to which genes and environments influence the association, are unknown. This study investigated which specific PEs in adolescence are associated with earlier bullying victimization and the genetic and environmental contributions underlying their association. Participants were 4826 twin pairs from a longitudinal community-based twin study in England and Wales who reported on their bullying victimization at the age of 12 years. Measures of specific PEs (self-rated Paranoia, Hallucinations, Cognitive disorganization, Grandiosity, Anhedonia, and parent-rated Negative Symptoms) were recorded at age of 16 years. Childhood bullying victimization was most strongly associated with Paranoia in adolescence (r = .26; P < .01), with weaker associations with Hallucinations, Cognitive Disorganization, parent-rated Negative Symptoms (r = .12-.20; P < .01), Grandiosity (r = .04; P < .05), and Anhedonia (r = .00, n.s.). Bivariate twin model-fitting demonstrated that bullying victimization and Paranoia were both heritable (35% and 52%, respectively) with unique environmental influences (39% and 48%, respectively), and bullying victimization showed common environmental influences (26%). The association between bullying victimization and Paranoia operated almost entirely via genetic influences (bivariate heritability = 93%), with considerable genetic overlap (genetic correlation = .55). In contrast to the assumed role of bullying victimization as an environmental trigger, these data suggest that bullying victimization in late childhood is particularly linked to self-rated Paranoia in adolescence via a shared genetic propensity. Clinically, individuals with a history of bullying victimization are predicted to be particularly susceptible to paranoid symptoms.