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Absolute Pitch Twin Study and Segregation Analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 February 2012

Elizabeth Theusch
Affiliation:
Institute for Human Genetics, University of California, San Francisco, United States of America; Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, University of California, San Francisco, United States of America.
Jane Gitschier*
Affiliation:
Institute for Human Genetics, University of California, San Francisco, United States of America; Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, University of California, San Francisco, United States of America; Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco, United States of America. jane.gitschier@ucsf.edu
*
*ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE: Jane Gitschier, HSE 901, Box 0794, 513 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco CA 94143 USA.

Abstract

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Absolute pitch is a rare pitch-naming ability with unknown etiology. Some scientists maintain that its manifestation depends solely on environmental factors, while others suggest that genetic factors contribute to it. We sought to further investigate the hypothesis that genetic factors support the acquisition of absolute pitch and to better elucidate the inheritance pattern of this trait. To this end, we conducted a twin study and a segregation analysis using data collected from a large population of absolute pitch possessors. The casewise concordance rate of 14 monozygotic twin pairs, 78.6%, was significantly different from that of 31 dizygotic twin pairs, 45.2%, assuming single ascertainment (x2 = 5.57, 1 df, p = .018), supporting a role for genetics in the development of absolute pitch. Segregation analysis of 1463 families, assuming single ascertainment, produced a segregation ratio pD = .089 with SEpD = 0.006. Unlike an earlier segregation analysis on a small number of absolute pitch probands from musically educated families, our study indicates that absolute pitch is not inherited in a simple Mendelian fashion. Based on these data, absolute pitch is likely genetically heterogeneous, with environmental, epigenetic, and stochastic factors also perhaps contributing to its genesis. These findings are in agreement with the results of our recent linkage analysis.

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