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Genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism heritability of nicotine dependence as a multidimensional phenotype

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 April 2016

L. C. Bidwell*
Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, RI, USA Division of Behavioral Genetics, Department of Psychiatry, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, RI, USA
R. H. C. Palmer
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, RI, USA Division of Behavioral Genetics, Department of Psychiatry, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, RI, USA
L. Brick
Division of Behavioral Genetics, Department of Psychiatry, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, RI, USA
J. E. McGeary
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, RI, USA Division of Behavioral Genetics, Department of Psychiatry, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, RI, USA Department of Veterans Affairs, Providence VA Medical Center, Providence, RI, USA
V. S. Knopik
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, RI, USA Division of Behavioral Genetics, Department of Psychiatry, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, RI, USA
*Address for correspondence: L. C. Bidwell, Ph.D., Institute of Cognitive Science, UCB 344, Boulder, CO 80309, USA. (Email:



Heritability estimates from twin studies of the multi-faceted phenotype of nicotine dependence (ND) range from moderate to high (31–60%), but vary substantially based on the specific ND-related construct examined. The current study estimated the aggregate role of common genetic variants on key ND constructs.


Genomic-relationship-matrix restricted maximum likelihood (GREML) was used to decompose phenotypic variance across multiple ND indices using 796 125 polymorphisms from 2346 unrelated ‘lifetime ever smokers’ of European ancestry. Measures included DSM-IV ND and Fagerström Test for Nicotine Dependence (FTND) summary measures and constituent constructs (e.g. withdrawal severity, tolerance, heaviness of smoking and time spent smoking). Exploratory and confirmatory factor models were used to describe the covariance structure across ND measures; resulting factor(s) were the subject(s) of GREML analyses.


Factor models indicated highly correlated DSM-IV and FTND factors for ND (0.545, 95% confidence interval 0.50–0.60) that could be represented as a higher-order factor (NIC DEP). Additive genetic influence on NIC DEP was 33% (s.e. = 0.14, p = 0.009). Post-hoc analyses indicated moderate genetic effects on the DSM-IV (34%, s.e. = 0.14, p = 0.008) and FTND (26%, s.e. = 0.14, p = 0.032) factors, both of which were influenced by the same genetic effects (rG-SNP = 1.00, s.e. = 0.09, p < 0.00001).


Overall, common single nucleotide polymorphisms accounted for a large proportion of the genetic influences on ND-related phenotypes that have been observed in twin studies. Genetic contributions across distinct ND scales were largely influenced by shared genetic factors.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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