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Methylation as an epigenetic source of random genetic effects in the classical twin design

Authors Dolan C, Nivard M, van Dongen J, van der Sluis S, Boomsma D

Received 12 May 2015

Accepted for publication 1 August 2015

Published 18 September 2015 Volume 2015:5 Pages 305—315


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 6

Editor who approved publication: Dr John Martignetti

Conor V Dolan,1,3 Michel G Nivard,1,3 Jenny van Dongen,1,3 Sophie van der Sluis,2 Dorret I Boomsma,1,3,4

1Department of Biological Psychology, Netherlands Twin Register, VU University Amsterdam, 2Section Complex Trait Genetics, Department of Clinical Genetics, VU Medical Center, 3EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, 4Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Abstract: The epigenetic effects of cytosine methylation on gene expression are an acknowledged source of phenotypic variance. The discordant monozygotic (MZ) twin design has been used to demonstrate the role of methylation in disease. Application of the classical twin design, featuring both monozygotic and dizygotic twins, has demonstrated that individual differences in methylation levels are attributable to genetic and environmental (including stochastic) factors, with the latter explaining most of the variance. What implications epigenetic sources of variance have for the twin modeling of (non-epigenetic) phenotypes such as height and IQ is an open question. One possibility is that epigenetic effects are absorbed by the variance component attributable to unshared environmental. Another possibility is that such effects form an independent source of variance distinguishable in principle from standard genetic and environmental sources. In the present paper, we conceptualized epigenetic processes as giving rise to randomness in the effects of polygenetic influences. This means that the regression coefficient in the regression of the phenotype on the polygenic factor, as specified in the twin model, varies over individuals. We investigate the consequences of ignoring this randomness in the standard twin model.

Keywords: classical twin design, epigenetics, methylation, parameter randomness, heritability

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