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An Assessment of the Individual and Collective Effects of Variants on Height Using Twins and a Developmentally Informative Study Design

PLoS Genetics
Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002413
  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Organism Development
  • Aging
  • Genetics
  • Heredity
  • Complex Traits
  • Quantitative Traits
  • Human Genetics
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genome-Wide Association Studies
  • Biology
  • Design
  • Ecology
  • Geography


In a sample of 3,187 twins and 3,294 of their parents, we sought to investigate association of both individual variants and a genotype-based height score involving 176 of the 180 common genetic variants with adult height identified recently by the GIANT consortium. First, longitudinal observations on height spanning pre-adolescence through adulthood in the twin sample allowed us to investigate the separate effects of the previously identified SNPs on pre-pubertal height and pubertal growth spurt. We show that the effect of SNPs identified by the GIANT consortium is primarily on prepubertal height. Only one SNP, rs7759938 in LIN28B, approached a significant association with pubertal growth. Second, we show how using the twin data to control statistically for environmental variance can provide insight into the ultimate magnitude of SNP effects and consequently the genetic architecture of a phenotype. Specifically, we computed a genetic score by weighting SNPs according to their effects as assessed via meta-analysis. This weighted score accounted for 9.2% of the phenotypic variance in height, but 14.3% of the corresponding genetic variance. Longitudinal samples will be needed to understand the developmental context of common genetic variants identified through GWAS, while genetically informative designs will be helpful in accurately characterizing the extent to which these variants account for genetic, and not just phenotypic, variance.

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