Twin babies

Heritability of brain functioning across resting, emotional and cognitive tasks in the TWIN-E Study (2009-)

The TWIN-E Emotional Wellbeing study is a large prospective study of over 1,600 monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) adult twins from Twins Research Australia (Gatt et al., 2012, Twin Res Hum Gen). This study was an ARC Linkage project conducted in collaboration with industry partner Brain Resource Ltd. The goal of this project is to establish the role of genetics versus environment for various measures of emotion and cognition, as well as resting state function, using twin modelling. Twins were tested on emotional and cognitive measures of neurocognitive function, autonomics, electrophysiological measures (including EEG and ERPs), measures of neuroimaging (including MRI, DTI and fMRI), as well as salivary samples for DNA extraction. Another goal of the project is to examine the amount of shared genetics and environment between these different measures, and how specific genes and life experiences may account for these shared relationships.

Team Members & Collaborators

Prof Leanne Williams (Stanford University, USA) was the lead on this project, with co-investigators including Prof Peter Schofield (NeuRA and UNSW, Australia), Prof Anthony Harris (University of Sydney), and Prof Richard Clark (Flinders University). Dr Justine Gatt was the ARC Linkage Postdoctoral Research Fellow on this project. The industry partner was Brain Resource Ltd. The PhD students involved in this project include: Karen Burton (PhD, completed), Kaushik Ram (PhD, completed) and Kylie Routledge (PhD, completed). Research Assistants involved in this project include: Alicia Wilcox (2009-11), Hope Michaelson (2011-12) and Sarsha Yap (2011-12). The twin participants for this project were drawn from the Twins Research Australia (TRA) twin registry (

Grant Funding

This project was supported by an ARC Linkage Grant (Williams, Schofield, Harris and Clark, Gatt), which included an ARC Linkage Postdoctoral Fellowship awarded to Dr Justine Gatt (LP0883621, 2008-2011), and PhD Scholarships awarded to each PhD student.

Key Outcomes & Publications

The protocol for this study has been published (Gatt et al., 2012). Final sample numbers recruited include: ~1,600 twins with baseline questionnaire and neurocognitive performance data, and DNA samples, ~450 twins with EEG, ERP and autonomic data, and ~270 twins with MRI, fMRI and DTI data. To date, we have reported on the heritability of various measures including volumetric grey matter volume and DTI white matter tracts (Gatt et al., 2012), resting state default mode networks (Korgaonkar et al., 2014), depression and anxiety symptoms and their shared association (Burton et al., 2015), and emotion regulation (McRae et al., 2017). Analyses are continuing for the other measures.

Ball TM, Goldstein-Piekarski AN, Gatt JM, Williams LM. (2017). Quantifying person-level brain network functioning to facilitate clinical translation. Translational Psychiatry, 7, e1248; doi:10.1038/tp.2017.204.

McRae K, Rhee SH, Gatt JM, Godinez D, Williams LM, Gross JJ. (2017). Genetic and environmental influences on emotion regulation: A twin study of cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression. Emotion, 17(5), 772-777.

Burton KLO, Williams LM, Clark CR, Harris A, Schofield PR, Gatt JM. (2015). Sex differences in the shared genetics of dimensions of self-reported depression and anxiety. Journal of Affective Disorders, 188, 35-42.

Korgaonkar MS, Ram K, Williams LM, Gatt JM, Grieve SM. (2014). Establishing the resting state default mode network derived from functional magnetic resonance imaging tasks as an endophenotype: A twins study. Human Brain Mapping, 35, 3893-3902.

Gatt JM, Korgaonkar M, Schofield PR, Harris A, Clark CR, Oakley K, Ram K, Michaelson H, Yap S, Stanners M, Wise M, Williams LM. (2012). The TWIN-E project in emotional wellbeing: Study protocol and preliminary heritability results across four MRI and DTI measures. Twin Research and Human Genetics, Special Issue: The Genetics of Brain Imaging Phenotypes. 15 (3), 419-441.