A genome-wide association study of the longitudinal course of executive functions

Transl Psychiatry. 2021 Jul 10;11(1):386. doi: 10.1038/s41398-021-01510-8.


Executive functions are metacognitive capabilities that control and coordinate mental processes. In the transdiagnostic PsyCourse Study, comprising patients of the affective-to-psychotic spectrum and controls, we investigated the genetic basis of the time course of two core executive subfunctions: set-shifting (Trail Making Test, part B (TMT-B)) and updating (Verbal Digit Span backwards) in 1338 genotyped individuals. Time course was assessed with four measurement points, each 6 months apart. Compared to the initial assessment, executive performance improved across diagnostic groups. We performed a genome-wide association study to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with performance change over time by testing for SNP-by-time interactions using linear mixed models. We identified nine genome-wide significant SNPs for TMT-B in strong linkage disequilibrium with each other on chromosome 5. These were associated with decreased performance on the continuous TMT-B score across time. Variant rs150547358 had the lowest P value = 7.2 × 10-10 with effect estimate beta = 1.16 (95% c.i.: 1.11, 1.22). Implementing data of the FOR2107 consortium (1795 individuals), we replicated these findings for the SNP rs150547358 (P value = 0.015), analyzing the difference of the two available measurement points two years apart. In the replication study, rs150547358 exhibited a similar effect estimate beta = 0.85 (95% c.i.: 0.74, 0.97). Our study demonstrates that longitudinally measured phenotypes have the potential to unmask novel associations, adding time as a dimension to the effects of genomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Executive Function*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Linkage Disequilibrium
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide