Digitally created image of a head and double helix

Genes and wellbeing; how are they connected?

Despite numerous research into the genetics of psychiatric disorders, investigations regarding the molecular genetics of wellbeing and resilience and in general healthy functioning using new technologies and methods are still scarce. There is very little known about the genetic factors influencing our wellbeing and resilience. Only a few recent genome wide association studies successfully detected a number of genetic variants influencing wellbeing. However, these variants are only responsible for a very small proportion of wellbeing heritability and much more are still waiting to be discovered.

My research area is focused on understanding the role of genetics and environment in mental wellbeing and resilience; in particular, the role of genetic and epigenetic factors and how they interact with each other and the environment in predicting mental health.

We have at our disposal an amazing population of 1600 twins with psychological data including mental health and wellbeing questionnaires, including personality questionnaires and a specific composite wellbeing questionnaire developed by the Gatt group called COMPAS-W.  These twins also underwent a genetic analysis using PsychArray and their genotyping data is available. In addition, a portion of these twins have EEG and neuroimaging data (MRI, fMRI, DTI), which will allow us to further investigate the effect of genetic markers on these variables and how they interact to yield the end phenotype.

We have three main questions to answer in this project:

First, do genetic variations influence wellbeing in our twin cohort? Which genes? How and to what extent?

Second, do genetic variations influence the neurobiological markers measured by EEG, MRI, fMRI and DTI in the twin population?

Third, is there any connection or correlation between the genetic markers which influence wellbeing and those which influence the neurobiological markers? How much of these phenotypes are genetically correlated?