Publications by authors named "G Willemsen"

431 Publications

Gene-by-Crisis Interaction for Optimism and Meaning in Life: The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Behav Genet 2021 Sep 13. Epub 2021 Sep 13.

Department of Biological Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Van der Boechorststraat 7, 1081 BT, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

The corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and the restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus has had a large impact on daily life. We investigated the individual differences in the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and first lockdown on optimism and meaning in life in a sample from the Netherlands Twin Register. Participants completed surveys before (N = 9964, Mean age: 48.2, SD = 14.4) and during the first months of the pandemic (i.e. April-May 2020, N = 17,464, Mean age: 44.6 SD = 14.8), with a subsample completing both surveys (N = 6461, Mean age T1: 48.8, SD = 14.5). We applied genetic covariance structure models to twin data to investigate changes in the genetic architecture of the outcome traits due to the pandemic and the interaction of genes with the environmental exposure. Although 56% and 35% of the sample was negatively affected by the pandemic in their optimism and meaning in life, many participants were stable (32% and 43%) or even showed increased optimism and meaning in life (11% and 22%). Subgroups, specifically women, higher educated people, and people with poorer health, experienced larger negative effects. During the first months of the pandemic, slightly lower heritability estimates for optimism and meaning in life (respectively 20% and 25%) were obtained compared to pre-pandemic (respectively 26% and 32%), although confidence intervals overlap. The lower than unity genetic correlations across time (.75 and .63) suggest gene-environment interactions, where the expression of genes that influence optimism and meaning in life differs before and during the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic is a strong exposure that leads to imbalanced effects on the well-being of individuals. Some people decrease in well-being, while others get more optimistic and consider their lives as more meaningful during the pandemic. These differences are partly explained by individual differences in genetic sensitivity to extreme environmental change. More knowledge on the person-specific response to specific environmental variables underlying these individual differences is urgently needed to prevent further inequality.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10519-021-10081-9DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8437088PMC
September 2021

Genomic and phenotypic insights from an atlas of genetic effects on DNA methylation.

Nat Genet 2021 Sep 6;53(9):1311-1321. Epub 2021 Sep 6.

Estonian Genome Center, Institute of Genomics, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia.

Characterizing genetic influences on DNA methylation (DNAm) provides an opportunity to understand mechanisms underpinning gene regulation and disease. In the present study, we describe results of DNAm quantitative trait locus (mQTL) analyses on 32,851 participants, identifying genetic variants associated with DNAm at 420,509 DNAm sites in blood. We present a database of >270,000 independent mQTLs, of which 8.5% comprise long-range (trans) associations. Identified mQTL associations explain 15-17% of the additive genetic variance of DNAm. We show that the genetic architecture of DNAm levels is highly polygenic. Using shared genetic control between distal DNAm sites, we constructed networks, identifying 405 discrete genomic communities enriched for genomic annotations and complex traits. Shared genetic variants are associated with both DNAm levels and complex diseases, but only in a minority of cases do these associations reflect causal relationships from DNAm to trait or vice versa, indicating a more complex genotype-phenotype map than previously anticipated.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41588-021-00923-xDOI Listing
September 2021

Educational attainment of same-sex and opposite-sex dizygotic twins: An individual-level pooled study of 19 twin cohorts.

Horm Behav 2021 Sep 3;136:105054. Epub 2021 Sep 3.

Psychology Department, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

Comparing twins from same- and opposite-sex pairs can provide information on potential sex differences in a variety of outcomes, including socioeconomic-related outcomes such as educational attainment. It has been suggested that this design can be applied to examine the putative role of intrauterine exposure to testosterone for educational attainment, but the evidence is still disputed. Thus, we established an international database of twin data from 11 countries with 88,290 individual dizygotic twins born over 100 years and tested for differences between twins from same- and opposite-sex dizygotic pairs in educational attainment. Effect sizes with 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated by linear regression models after adjusting for birth year and twin study cohort. In contrast to the hypothesis, no difference was found in women (β = -0.05 educational years, 95% CI -0.11, 0.02). However, men with a same-sex co-twin were slightly more educated than men having an opposite-sex co-twin (β = 0.14 educational years, 95% CI 0.07, 0.21). No consistent differences in effect sizes were found between individual twin study cohorts representing Europe, the USA, and Australia or over the cohorts born during the 20th century, during which period the sex differences in education reversed favoring women in the latest birth cohorts. Further, no interaction was found with maternal or paternal education. Our results contradict the hypothesis that there would be differences in the intrauterine testosterone levels between same-sex and opposite-sex female twins affecting education. Our findings in men may point to social dynamics within same-sex twin pairs that may benefit men in their educational careers.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2021.105054DOI Listing
September 2021

Predicting Complex Traits and Exposures From Polygenic Scores and Blood and Buccal DNA Methylation Profiles.

Front Psychiatry 2021 29;12:688464. Epub 2021 Jul 29.

Department of Biological Psychology, Amsterdam Public Health Research Institute, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

We examined the performance of methylation scores (MS) and polygenic scores (PGS) for birth weight, BMI, prenatal maternal smoking exposure, and smoking status to assess the extent to which MS could predict these traits and exposures over and above the PGS in a multi-omics prediction model. MS may be seen as the epigenetic equivalent of PGS, but because of their dynamic nature and sensitivity of non-genetic exposures may add to complex trait prediction independently of PGS. MS and PGS were calculated based on genotype data and DNA-methylation data in blood samples from adults (Illumina 450 K; = 2,431; mean age 35.6) and in buccal samples from children (Illumina EPIC; = 1,128; mean age 9.6) from the Netherlands Twin Register. Weights to construct the scores were obtained from results of large epigenome-wide association studies (EWASs) based on whole blood or cord blood methylation data and genome-wide association studies (GWASs). In adults, MSs in blood predicted independently from PGSs, and outperformed PGSs for BMI, prenatal maternal smoking, and smoking status, but not for birth weight. The largest amount of variance explained by the multi-omics prediction model was for current vs. never smoking (54.6%) of which 54.4% was captured by the MS. The two predictors captured 16% of former vs. never smoking initiation variance (MS:15.5%, PGS: 0.5%), 17.7% of prenatal maternal smoking variance (MS:16.9%, PGS: 0.8%), 11.9% of BMI variance (MS: 6.4%, PGS 5.5%), and 1.9% of birth weight variance (MS: 0.4%, PGS: 1.5%). In children, MSs in buccal samples did not show independent predictive value. The largest amount of variance explained by the two predictors was for prenatal maternal smoking (2.6%), where the MSs contributed 1.5%. These results demonstrate that blood DNA MS in adults explain substantial variance in current smoking, large variance in former smoking, prenatal smoking, and BMI, but not in birth weight. Buccal cell DNA methylation scores have lower predictive value, which could be due to different tissues in the EWAS discovery studies and target sample, as well as to different ages. This study illustrates the value of combining polygenic scores with information from methylation data for complex traits and exposure prediction.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.688464DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8357987PMC
July 2021

Genetic insights into biological mechanisms governing human ovarian ageing.

Nature 2021 08 4;596(7872):393-397. Epub 2021 Aug 4.

Genome Integrity and Instability Group, Institut de Biotecnologia i Biomedicina, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Cerdanyola del Vallès, Spain.

Reproductive longevity is essential for fertility and influences healthy ageing in women, but insights into its underlying biological mechanisms and treatments to preserve it are limited. Here we identify 290 genetic determinants of ovarian ageing, assessed using normal variation in age at natural menopause (ANM) in about 200,000 women of European ancestry. These common alleles were associated with clinical extremes of ANM; women in the top 1% of genetic susceptibility have an equivalent risk of premature ovarian insufficiency to those carrying monogenic FMR1 premutations. The identified loci implicate a broad range of DNA damage response (DDR) processes and include loss-of-function variants in key DDR-associated genes. Integration with experimental models demonstrates that these DDR processes act across the life-course to shape the ovarian reserve and its rate of depletion. Furthermore, we demonstrate that experimental manipulation of DDR pathways highlighted by human genetics increases fertility and extends reproductive life in mice. Causal inference analyses using the identified genetic variants indicate that extending reproductive life in women improves bone health and reduces risk of type 2 diabetes, but increases the risk of hormone-sensitive cancers. These findings provide insight into the mechanisms that govern ovarian ageing, when they act, and how they might be targeted by therapeutic approaches to extend fertility and prevent disease.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03779-7DOI Listing
August 2021
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