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Developmental changes within the genetic architecture of social communication behaviour: A multivariate study of genetic variance in unrelated individuals

By Beate St Pourcain, Lindon J. Eaves, Susan M. Ring, Simon E Fisher, Sarah Medland, David M. Evans, George Davey Smith

Posted 23 Aug 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/179978

Background: Recent analyses of trait-disorder overlap suggest that psychiatric dimensions may relate to distinct sets of genes that exert their maximum influence during different periods of development. This includes analyses of social-communciation difficulties that share, depending on their developmental stage, stronger genetic links with either Autism Spectrum Disorder or schizophrenia. Here we developed a multivariate analysis framework in unrelated individuals to model directly the developmental profile of genetic influences contributing to complex traits, such as social-communication difficulties, during a ~10-year period spanning childhood and adolescence. Methods: Longitudinally assessed quantitative social-communication problems (N ≤ 5,551) were studied in participants from a UK birth cohort (ALSPAC, 8 to 17 years). Using standardised measures, genetic architectures were investigated with novel multivariate genetic-relationship-matrix structural equation models (GSEM) incorporating whole-genome genotyping information. Analogous to twin research, GSEM included Cholesky decomposition, common pathway and independent pathway models. Results: A 2-factor Cholesky decomposition model described the data best. One genetic factor was common to SCDC measures across development, the other accounted for independent variation at 11 years and later, consistent with distinct developmental profiles in trait-disorder overlap. Importantly, genetic factors operating at 8 years explained only ~50% of the genetic variation at 17 years. Conclusion: Using latent factor models, we identified developmental changes in the genetic architecture of social-communication difficulties that enhance the understanding of ASD and schizophrenia-related dimensions. More generally, GSEM present a framework for modelling shared genetic aetiologies between phenotypes and can provide prior information with respect to patterns and continuity of trait-disorder overlap.

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