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Genome-wide meta-analysis of cognitive empathy: heritability, and correlates with sex, neuropsychiatric conditions and brain anatomy

By Varun Warrier, Katrina Grasby, Florina Uzefovsky, Roberto Toro, Paula Smith, Bhismadev Chakrabarti, Jyoti Khadake, Nadia Litterman, Jouke-Jan Hottenga, Gitta Lubke, Dorret I Boomsma, Nicholas G Martin, Peter K Hatemi, Sarah E Medland, David A. Hinds, Thomas Bourgeron, Simon Baron-Cohen

Posted 19 Oct 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/081844

We conducted a genome-wide meta-analysis of cognitive empathy using the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (Eyes Test) in 88,056 research volunteers of European Ancestry (44,574 females and 43,482 males) from 23andMe Inc., and an additional 1,497 research volunteers of European Ancestry (891 females and 606 males) from the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study (BLTS). We confirmed a female advantage on the Eyes Test (Cohens d = 0.21, P < 2.2x10-16), and identified a locus in 3p26.1 that is associated with scores on the Eyes Test in females (rs7641347, Pmeta = 1.58 x 10-8). Common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) explained 5.8% (95% CI: 0.45 to 0.72; P = 1.00 x 10-17) of the total trait variance in both sexes, and we identified a twin heritability of 0.28 (95% CI: 0.13 to 0.42). Finally, we identified significant genetic correlation between the Eyes Test and anorexia nervosa, measures of empathy (the Empathy Quotient), openness (NEO-Five Factor Inventory), and different measures of educational attainment and cognitive aptitude, and show that the genetic determinants of volumes of the dorsal striatum (caudate nucleus and putamen) are positively correlated with the genetic determinants of performance on the Eyes Test.

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