Genome-wide analyses of vocabulary size in infancy and toddlerhood: Associations With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Literacy, and Cognition-Related Traits

EAGLE working group

Abstract

BACKGROUND: The number of words children produce (expressive vocabulary) and understand (receptive vocabulary) changes rapidly during early development, partially due to genetic factors. Here, we performed a meta-genome-wide association study of vocabulary acquisition and investigated polygenic overlap with literacy, cognition, developmental phenotypes, and neurodevelopmental conditions, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

METHODS: We studied 37,913 parent-reported vocabulary size measures (English, Dutch, Danish) for 17,298 children of European descent. Meta-analyses were performed for early-phase expressive (infancy, 15-18 months), late-phase expressive (toddlerhood, 24-38 months), and late-phase receptive (toddlerhood, 24-38 months) vocabulary. Subsequently, we estimated single nucleotide polymorphism-based heritability (SNP-h 2) and genetic correlations (r g) and modeled underlying factor structures with multivariate models.

RESULTS: Early-life vocabulary size was modestly heritable (SNP-h 2 = 0.08-0.24). Genetic overlap between infant expressive and toddler receptive vocabulary was negligible (r g = 0.07), although each measure was moderately related to toddler expressive vocabulary (r g = 0.69 and r g = 0.67, respectively), suggesting a multifactorial genetic architecture. Both infant and toddler expressive vocabulary were genetically linked to literacy (e.g., spelling: r g = 0.58 and r g = 0.79, respectively), underlining genetic similarity. However, a genetic association of early-life vocabulary with educational attainment and intelligence emerged only during toddlerhood (e.g., receptive vocabulary and intelligence: r g = 0.36). Increased ADHD risk was genetically associated with larger infant expressive vocabulary (r g = 0.23). Multivariate genetic models in the ALSPAC (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) cohort confirmed this finding for ADHD symptoms (e.g., at age 13; r g = 0.54) but showed that the association effect reversed for toddler receptive vocabulary (r g = -0.74), highlighting developmental heterogeneity.

CONCLUSIONS: The genetic architecture of early-life vocabulary changes during development, shaping polygenic association patterns with later-life ADHD, literacy, and cognition-related traits.

OriginalsprogEngelsk
TidsskriftBiological Psychiatry
ISSN0006-3223
DOI
StatusE-pub ahead of print - 7 dec. 2023

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