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No Genetic Influence for Childhood Behavior Problems From DNA Analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1048-1056.e3
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013

King's Authors


Objective: Twin studies of behavior problems in childhood point to substantial genetic influence. It is now possible to estimate genetic influence using DNA alone in samples of unrelated individuals, not relying on family-based designs such as twins. A linear mixed model, which incorporates DNA microarray data, has confirmed twin results by showing substantial genetic influence for diverse traits in adults. Here we present direct comparisons between twin and DNA heritability estimates for childhood behavior problems as rated by parents, teachers, and children themselves. 

Method: Behavior problem data from 2,500 UK-representative 12-year-old twin pairs were used in twin analyses; DNA analyses were based on 1 member of the twin pair with genotype data for 1.7 million DNA markers. Diverse behavior problems were assessed, including autistic, depressive, and hyperactive symptoms. Genetic influence from DNA was estimated using genome-wide complex trait analysis (GCTA), and the twin estimates of heritability were based on standard twin model fitting. 

Results: Behavior problems in childhood-whether rated by parents, teachers, or children themselves-show no significant genetic influence using GCTA, even though twin study estimates of heritability are substantial in the same sample, and even though both GCTA and twin study estimates of genetic influence are substantial for cognitive and anthropometric traits. 

Conclusions: We suggest that this new type of "missing heritability," that is, the gap between GCTA and twin study estimates for behavior problems in childhood, is due to nonadditive genetic influence, which will make it more difficult to identify genes responsible for heritability.

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