Is aberrant affective cognition an endophenotype for affective disorders? - A monozygotic twin study

Psychol Med. 2019 Apr;49(6):987-996. doi: 10.1017/S0033291718001642. Epub 2018 Jul 2.


Background: Identification of endophenotypes can improve prevention, detection and development of new treatments. We therefore investigated whether aberrant affective cognition constitutes an endophenotype for affective disorders by being present in monozygotic (MZ) twins with unipolar or bipolar disorder in partial remission (i.e. affected) and their unaffected co-twins (i.e. high-risk) relative to twins with no family history of affective disorder (i.e. low-risk).

Methods: We conducted an assessor blind cross-sectional study from 2014 to 2017 of MZ twins using Danish population-based registers in recruitment. Twins attended one test session involving neurocognitive testing, clinical ratings and questionnaires. Main outcomes were attention to and recognition of emotional facial expressions, the memory of emotional self-referential words, emotion regulation and coping strategies.

Results: Participants were 103 affected, 44 high-risk and 36 low-risk MZ twins. Groups were demographically well-balanced and showed comparable non-affective cognitive performance. We observed no aberrant affective cognition in affected and high-risk relative to low-risk twins. However, high-risk twins displayed attentional avoidance of emotional faces (ps ⩽ 0.009) and more use of task-oriented coping strategies (p = 0.01) compared with affected twins. In contrast did affected twins show more emotion-oriented coping than high- and low-risk twins (ps ⩽ 0.004).

Conclusions: Our findings provide no support of aberrant affective cognition as an endophenotype for affective disorders. High-risk twins' attentional avoidance of emotional faces and greater use of task-oriented coping strategies may reflect compensatory mechanisms.

Keywords: Affective cognition; affective disorder; emotion processing; emotion regulation; endophenotype; twin study.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Attention
  • Cognition*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diseases in Twins / psychology*
  • Emotions
  • Endophenotypes
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mood Disorders / genetics
  • Mood Disorders / psychology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Registries
  • Social Perception
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Twins, Monozygotic / psychology*
  • Young Adult