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In search of genes associated with risk for psychopathic tendencies in children: a two-stage genome-wide association study of pooled DNA


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

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    The term psychopathic tendencies and acronym AB+/CU+ are used interchangeably in this article to denote a group of children who have elevated rates of antisocial behaviour and core psychopathic features.


Background:  Quantitative genetic data from our group indicates that antisocial behaviour (AB) is strongly heritable when coupled with psychopathic, callous-unemotional (CU) personality traits. We have also demonstrated that the genetic influences for AB and CU overlap considerably. We conducted a genome-wide association scan that capitalises on these findings in an attempt to identify quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that may increase risk for psychopathic tendencies (AB+/CU+).

Methods:  Teacher ratings at age 7 were used to screen 8374 twins with available DNA samples for individuals that were high vs. low on both AB and CU. In Stage 1, we screened for allele frequency differences in 642,432 autosomal single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) using the Affymetrix 6.0 GeneChip with pooled DNA for high-scoring (AB+/CU+) versus low-scoring children (N = ∼300/group). In Stage 2, we tested the 3000 most strongly associated SNPs from Stage 1 for association in the same direction in a second sample of high- versus low-scoring children from the same twin study (18% co-twins).

Results:  Using allele frequencies estimated from pooled DNA, we found suggestive evidence for enrichment of association in the second stage of our two-stage genome-wide association design and focus on reporting the 30 top-ranking SNPs nominally associated with psychopathic tendencies. These SNPs include neurodevelopmental genes such as ROBO2.

Conclusions:  Although none of the SNPs reached genome-wide statistical significance we have generated a list of SNPs that are potentially associated with psychopathic tendencies, which we believe warrant verification and replication in large independent and clinical samples.