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Exploring the Etiology of the Association Between Birthweight and IQ in an Adolescent Twin Sample

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The negative effects of very low birthweight on intellectual development have been well documented, and more recently this effect has been shown to generalise to birthweights within the normal range. In this study we investigate the etiology of this relationship by using a classical twin design to disentangle the contributions of genes and environment. A previous Dutch study (Boomsma et al., 2001) examining these effects indicated that genes were important in mediating the association of birthweight to full IQ measured at ages 7 and 10, but not at ages 5 and 12. Here the association between birthweight and IQ at age 16 is considered (N = 523 twin pairs). Using variance components modeling we found that the genetic variance in birthweight (4%) completely overlapped with that in verbal IQ but not performance or full IQ. Results further showed the importance of shared environmental effects on birthweight (~ 60%) but not on IQ (with genes explaining up to 72% of IQ variance). Models incorporating a direction of causation parameter between birthweight and IQ provided adequate fit to the data in either causal direction for performance and full IQ, but the model with verbal IQ causing birthweight was preferred to one in which birthweight influenced verbal IQ. As the measurement of birthweight precedes the measurement of twins' IQ at age 16, the influence of verbal IQ might be better considered as a proxy for parents' IQ or education, and it is possible that brighter mothers provide better prenatal environments for their children.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia, email: 2: Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia

Publication date: 2004-02-01

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