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Age-Related Changes in Heritability of Behavioral Phenotypes Over Adolescence and Young Adulthood: A Meta-Analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 February 2012

Sarah E. Bergen
Affiliation:
Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond, Virginia, United States of America; Department of Human Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond, Virginia, United States of America.
Charles O. Gardner
Affiliation:
Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond, Virginia, United States of America; Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond, Virginia, United States of America.
Kenneth S. Kendler*
Affiliation:
Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond, Virginia, United States of America; Department of Human Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond, Virginia, United States of America; Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond, Virginia, United States of America. kendler@hsc.vcu.edu
*
*Address for correspondence: Kenneth S. Kendler, Department of Psychiatry, Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Box 980126, Richmond, VA 23298-0126, USA.

Abstract

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The relative proportions of genetic and environmental variance in behavioral measures have been studied extensively. A growing body of literature has examined changes in heritability measures over time, but we are unaware of any prior efforts to assess developmental heritability changes for multiple behavioral phenotypes using multiple data sources. We have chosen to explore the proportional genetic influences on a variety of behaviors during the genetically and environmentally labile adolescent and young adult years. This meta-analysis examined 8 behavioral domains and incorporated only primary research articles reporting two or more heritability time points in order to minimize the age-to-age error variability. Linear regression analyses revealed significant cross-time heritability increases for externalizing behaviors, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, IQ, and social attitudes and nonsignificant increases for alcohol consumption, and nicotine initiation, but no evidence of heritability changes for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. A variety of mechanisms may underlie these findings including the rising importance of active genotype-environment correlation, an increase in gene expression, or proportional reductions in environmental variance. Additional longitudinal studies and the inclusion of measures of total variance in primary research reports will aid in distinguishing between these possibilities. Further studies exploring heritability changes beyond young adulthood would also benefit our understanding of factors influencing heritability of behavioral traits over the lifespan.

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