A multi-dimensional characterization of anxiety in monozygotic twin pairs reveals susceptibility loci in humans

Transl Psychiatry. 2017 Dec 11;7(12):1282. doi: 10.1038/s41398-017-0047-9.


The etiology of individual differences in human anxiousness is complex and includes contributions from genetic, epigenetic (i.e., DNA methylation) and environmental factors. Past genomic approaches have been limited in their ability to detect human anxiety-related differences in these factors. To overcome these limitations, we employed both a multi-dimensional characterization method, to select monozygotic twin pairs discordant for anxiety, and whole genome DNA methylation sequencing. This approach revealed 230 anxiety-related differentially methylated loci that were annotated to 183 genes, including several known stress-related genes such as NAV1, IGF2, GNAS, and CRTC1. As an initial validation of these findings, we tested the significance of an overlap of these data with anxiety-related differentially methylated loci that we previously reported from a key neural circuit of anxiety (i.e., the central nucleus of the amygdala) in young monkeys and found a significant overlap (P-value < 0.05) of anxiety-related differentially methylated genes, including GNAS, SYN3, and JAG2. Finally, sequence motif predictions of all the human differentially methylated regions indicated an enrichment of five transcription factor binding motifs, suggesting that DNA methylation may regulate gene expression by mediating transcription factor binding of these transcripts. Together, these data demonstrate environmentally sensitive factors that may underlie the development of human anxiety.

Publication types

  • Twin Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Anxiety / diagnostic imaging
  • Anxiety / genetics*
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Anxiety Disorders / genetics*
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Twins, Monozygotic


  • Hydrocortisone