Heritability of tic disorders: a twin-family study

Nuno Rodrigues Zilhao Nogueira, M C Olthof, D J A Smit, D C Cath, L Ligthart, C A Mathews, K Delucchi, D I Boomsma, C V Dolan

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BACKGROUND: Genetic-epidemiological studies that estimate the contributions of genetic factors to variation in tic symptoms are scarce. We estimated the extent to which genetic and environmental influences contribute to tics, employing various phenotypic definitions ranging between mild and severe symptomatology, in a large population-based adult twin-family sample.

METHOD: In an extended twin-family design, we analysed lifetime tic data reported by adult mono- and dizygotic twins (n = 8323) and their family members (n = 7164; parents and siblings) from 7311 families in the Netherlands Twin Register. We measured tics by the abbreviated version of the Schedule for Tourette and Other Behavioral Syndromes. Heritability was estimated by genetic structural equation modeling for four tic disorder definitions: three dichotomous and one trichotomous phenotype, characterized by increasingly strictly defined criteria.

RESULTS: Prevalence rates of the different tic disorders in our sample varied between 0.3 and 4.5% depending on tic disorder definition. Tic frequencies decreased with increasing age. Heritability estimates varied between 0.25 and 0.37, depending on phenotypic definitions. None of the phenotypes showed evidence of assortative mating, effects of shared environment or non-additive genetic effects.

CONCLUSIONS: Heritabilities of mild and severe tic phenotypes were estimated to be moderate. Overlapping confidence intervals of the heritability estimates suggest overlapping genetic liabilities between the various tic phenotypes. The most lenient phenotype (defined only by tic characteristics, excluding criteria B, C and D of DSM-IV) rendered sufficiently reliable heritability estimates. These findings have implications in phenotypic definitions for future genetic studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1085-1096
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • DSM
  • heritability
  • structural equation modeling
  • tic symptoms
  • Tourette's syndrome


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