Heritability and gene-environment interactions for melanocytic nevus density examined in a U.K. adolescent twin study

J Invest Dermatol. 2001 Aug;117(2):348-52. doi: 10.1046/j.0022-202x.2001.01415.x.


Risk factors for melanoma include environmental (particularly ultraviolet exposure) and genetic factors. In rare families, susceptibility to melanoma is determined by high penetrance mutations in the genes CDKN2A or CDK4, with more common, less penetrant genes also postulated. A further, potent risk factor for melanoma is the presence of large numbers of melanocytic nevi so that genes controlling nevus phenotype could be such melanoma susceptibility genes. A large Australian study involving twins aged 12 y of predominantly U.K. ancestry showed strong evidence for genetic influence on nevus number and density. We carried out essentially the same study in the U.K. to gain insight into gene-environment interactions for nevi. One hundred and three monozygous (MZ) and 118 dizygous (DZ) twin pairs aged 10-18 y were examined in Yorkshire and Surrey, U.K. Nevus counts were, on average, higher in boys (mean = 98.6) than girls (83.8) (p = 0.009) and higher in Australia (110.4) than in the U.K. (79.2, adjusted to age 12 y, p < 0.0001), and nevus densities were higher on sun-exposed sites (92 per m2) than sun-protected sites (58 per m2) (p < 0.0001). Correlations in sex and age adjusted nevus density were higher in MZ pairs (0.94, 95%CI 0.92-0.96) than in DZ pairs (0.61, 95%CI 0.49-0.72), were notably similar to those of the Australian study (MZ = 0.94, DZ = 0.60), and were consistent with high heritability (65% in the U.K., 68% in Australia). We conclude that emergence of nevi in adolescents is under strong genetic control, whereas environmental exposures affect the mean number of nevi.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nevus, Pigmented / epidemiology
  • Nevus, Pigmented / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Sunlight / adverse effects
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology