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Journal: Nature genetics


The timing of puberty is a highly polygenic childhood trait that is epidemiologically associated with various adult diseases. Using 1000 Genomes Project-imputed genotype data in up to ∼370,000 women, we identify 389 independent signals (P < 5 × 10(-8)) for age at menarche, a milestone in female pubertal development. In Icelandic data, these signals explain ∼7.4% of the population variance in age at menarche, corresponding to ∼25% of the estimated heritability. We implicate ∼250 genes via coding variation or associated expression, demonstrating significant enrichment in neural tissues. Rare variants near the imprinted genes MKRN3 and DLK1 were identified, exhibiting large effects when paternally inherited. Mendelian randomization analyses suggest causal inverse associations, independent of body mass index (BMI), between puberty timing and risks for breast and endometrial cancers in women and prostate cancer in men. In aggregate, our findings highlight the complexity of the genetic regulation of puberty timing and support causal links with cancer susceptibility.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Cancer, Obesity, Body mass index, Menarche


Intelligence is associated with important economic and health-related life outcomes. Despite intelligence having substantial heritability (0.54) and a confirmed polygenic nature, initial genetic studies were mostly underpowered. Here we report a meta-analysis for intelligence of 78,308 individuals. We identify 336 associated SNPs (METAL P < 5 × 10(-8)) in 18 genomic loci, of which 15 are new. Around half of the SNPs are located inside a gene, implicating 22 genes, of which 11 are new findings. Gene-based analyses identified an additional 30 genes (MAGMA P < 2.73 × 10(-6)), of which all but one had not been implicated previously. We show that the identified genes are predominantly expressed in brain tissue, and pathway analysis indicates the involvement of genes regulating cell development (MAGMA competitive P = 3.5 × 10(-6)). Despite the well-known difference in twin-based heratiblity for intelligence in childhood (0.45) and adulthood (0.80), we show substantial genetic correlation (rg = 0.89, LD score regression P = 5.4 × 10(-29)). These findings provide new insight into the genetic architecture of intelligence.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Cell, Genome, Genomics, Intelligence


Despite strong evidence supporting the heritability of major depressive disorder (MDD), previous genome-wide studies were unable to identify risk loci among individuals of European descent. We used self-report data from 75,607 individuals reporting clinical diagnosis of depression and 231,747 individuals reporting no history of depression through 23andMe and carried out meta-analysis of these results with published MDD genome-wide association study results. We identified five independent variants from four regions associated with self-report of clinical diagnosis or treatment for depression. Loci with a P value <1.0 × 10(-5) in the meta-analysis were further analyzed in a replication data set (45,773 cases and 106,354 controls) from 23andMe. A total of 17 independent SNPs from 15 regions reached genome-wide significance after joint analysis over all three data sets. Some of these loci were also implicated in genome-wide association studies of related psychiatric traits. These studies provide evidence for large-scale consumer genomic data as a powerful and efficient complement to data collected from traditional means of ascertainment for neuropsychiatric disease genomics.

Concepts: Genetics, Cognitive behavioral therapy, Major depressive disorder, Dysthymia, Treatment for depression


Despite a century of research on complex traits in humans, the relative importance and specific nature of the influences of genes and environment on human traits remain controversial. We report a meta-analysis of twin correlations and reported variance components for 17,804 traits from 2,748 publications including 14,558,903 partly dependent twin pairs, virtually all published twin studies of complex traits. Estimates of heritability cluster strongly within functional domains, and across all traits the reported heritability is 49%. For a majority (69%) of traits, the observed twin correlations are consistent with a simple and parsimonious model where twin resemblance is solely due to additive genetic variation. The data are inconsistent with substantial influences from shared environment or non-additive genetic variation. This study provides the most comprehensive analysis of the causes of individual differences in human traits thus far and will guide future gene-mapping efforts. All the results can be visualized using the MaTCH webtool.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Natural selection, Species, Human height, Philosophy of science, Analysis of variance, Heritability


The ages of puberty, first sexual intercourse and first birth signify the onset of reproductive ability, behavior and success, respectively. In a genome-wide association study of 125,667 UK Biobank participants, we identify 38 loci associated (P < 5 × 10(-8)) with age at first sexual intercourse. These findings were taken forward in 241,910 men and women from Iceland and 20,187 women from the Women's Genome Health Study. Several of the identified loci also exhibit associations (P < 5 × 10(-8)) with other reproductive and behavioral traits, including age at first birth (variants in or near ESR1 and RBM6-SEMA3F), number of children (CADM2 and ESR1), irritable temperament (MSRA) and risk-taking propensity (CADM2). Mendelian randomization analyses infer causal influences of earlier puberty timing on earlier first sexual intercourse, earlier first birth and lower educational attainment. In turn, likely causal consequences of earlier first sexual intercourse include reproductive, educational, psychiatric and cardiometabolic outcomes.

Concepts: Psychology, Sexual intercourse, Genetics, Age, Genome-wide association study, Behavior, Psychiatry, The Onset


Migraine is a debilitating neurological disorder affecting around one in seven people worldwide, but its molecular mechanisms remain poorly understood. There is some debate about whether migraine is a disease of vascular dysfunction or a result of neuronal dysfunction with secondary vascular changes. Genome-wide association (GWA) studies have thus far identified 13 independent loci associated with migraine. To identify new susceptibility loci, we carried out a genetic study of migraine on 59,674 affected subjects and 316,078 controls from 22 GWA studies. We identified 44 independent single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) significantly associated with migraine risk (P < 5 × 10(-8)) that mapped to 38 distinct genomic loci, including 28 loci not previously reported and a locus that to our knowledge is the first to be identified on chromosome X. In subsequent computational analyses, the identified loci showed enrichment for genes expressed in vascular and smooth muscle tissues, consistent with a predominant theory of migraine that highlights vascular etiologies.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Molecular biology, Chromosome, Single-nucleotide polymorphism, Smooth muscle


Over a quarter of drugs that enter clinical development fail because they are ineffective. Growing insight into genes that influence human disease may affect how drug targets and indications are selected. However, there is little guidance about how much weight should be given to genetic evidence in making these key decisions. To answer this question, we investigated how well the current archive of genetic evidence predicts drug mechanisms. We found that, among well-studied indications, the proportion of drug mechanisms with direct genetic support increases significantly across the drug development pipeline, from 2.0% at the preclinical stage to 8.2% among mechanisms for approved drugs, and varies dramatically among disease areas. We estimate that selecting genetically supported targets could double the success rate in clinical development. Therefore, using the growing wealth of human genetic data to select the best targets and indications should have a measurable impact on the successful development of new drugs.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Gene, Genetics, Clinical trial, Human genome, Pharmaceutical industry, Drug discovery, Pre-clinical development


Eleven susceptibility loci for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD) were identified by previous studies; however, a large portion of the genetic risk for this disease remains unexplained. We conducted a large, two-stage meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in individuals of European ancestry. In stage 1, we used genotyped and imputed data (7,055,881 SNPs) to perform meta-analysis on 4 previously published GWAS data sets consisting of 17,008 Alzheimer’s disease cases and 37,154 controls. In stage 2, 11,632 SNPs were genotyped and tested for association in an independent set of 8,572 Alzheimer’s disease cases and 11,312 controls. In addition to the APOE locus (encoding apolipoprotein E), 19 loci reached genome-wide significance (P < 5 × 10(-8)) in the combined stage 1 and stage 2 analysis, of which 11 are newly associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Neuroimaging, Memory, Apolipoprotein E, Genome-wide association study, Terry Pratchett


To identify genetic factors contributing to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), we conducted whole-exome analyses of 1,022 index familial ALS (FALS) cases and 7,315 controls. In a new screening strategy, we performed gene-burden analyses trained with established ALS genes and identified a significant association between loss-of-function (LOF) NEK1 variants and FALS risk. Independently, autozygosity mapping for an isolated community in the Netherlands identified a NEK1 p.Arg261His variant as a candidate risk factor. Replication analyses of sporadic ALS (SALS) cases and independent control cohorts confirmed significant disease association for both p.Arg261His (10,589 samples analyzed) and NEK1 LOF variants (3,362 samples analyzed). In total, we observed NEK1 risk variants in nearly 3% of ALS cases. NEK1 has been linked to several cellular functions, including cilia formation, DNA-damage response, microtubule stability, neuronal morphology and axonal polarity. Our results provide new and important insights into ALS etiopathogenesis and genetic etiology.

Concepts: Genetics, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig


Tumor evolution is shaped by many variables, potentially involving external selective pressures induced by therapies. After surgery, patients with estrogen receptor (ERα)-positive breast cancer are treated with adjuvant endocrine therapy, including selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) and/or aromatase inhibitors (AIs). However, more than 20% of patients relapse within 10 years and eventually progress to incurable metastatic disease. Here we demonstrate that the choice of therapy has a fundamental influence on the genetic landscape of relapsed diseases. We found that 21.5% of AI-treated, relapsed patients had acquired CYP19A1 (encoding aromatase) amplification (CYP19A1(amp)). Relapsed patients also developed numerous mutations targeting key breast cancer-associated genes, including ESR1 and CYP19A1. Notably, CYP19A1(amp) cells also emerged in vitro, but only in AI-resistant models. CYP19A1 amplification caused increased aromatase activity and estrogen-independent ERα binding to target genes, resulting in CYP19A1(amp) cells showing decreased sensitivity to AI treatment. These data suggest that AI treatment itself selects for acquired CYP19A1(amp) and promotes local autocrine estrogen signaling in AI-resistant metastatic patients.

Concepts: Cancer, Breast cancer, Estrogen, Chemotherapy, Estrogen receptor, Tamoxifen, Aromatase, Aromatase inhibitor