Association studies, comparing elite athletes with sedentary controls, have reported a number of genes that may be related to athlete status. The present study reports the first genome wide linkage scan for athlete status. Subjects were 4488 adult female twins from the TwinsUK Adult Twin Registry (793 monozygotic [MZ] and 1000 dizygotic [DZ] complete twin pairs, and single twins). Athlete status was measured by asking the twins whether they had ever competed in sports and what was the highest level obtained. Twins who had competed at the county or national level were considered elite athletes. Using structural equation modeling in Mx, the heritability of athlete status was estimated at 66%. Seven hundred DZ twin pairs that were successfully genotyped for 1946 markers (736 microsatellites and 1210 SNPs) were included in the linkage analysis. Identical-by-descent probabilities were estimated in Merlin for a 1 cM grid, taking into account the linkage disequilibrium of correlated SNPs. The linkage scan was carried out in Mx using the -approach. Suggestive linkages were found on chromosomes 3q22-q24 and 4q31-q34. Both areas converge with findings from previous studies using exercise phenotypes. The peak on 3q22-q24 was found at the SLC9A9 gene. The region 4q31-q34 overlaps with the region for which suggestive linkages were found in two previous linkage studies for physical fitness (FABP2 gene; Bouchard et al., 2000) and physical activity (UCP1 gene; Simonen et al., 2003). Future association studies should further clarify the possible role of these genes in athlete status.
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