Gene, environment and cognitive function: A Chinese twin ageing study

Chunsheng Xu, Jianping Sun, Haiping Duan, Fuling Ji, Xiaocao Tian, Yaoming Zhai, Shaojie Wang, Zengchang Pang, Dongfeng Zhang, Zhongtang Zhao, Shuxia Li, Matt Mc Gue, Jacob V B Hjelmborg, Kaare Christensen, Qihua Tan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: the genetic and environmental contributions to cognitive function in the old people have been well addressed for the Western populations using twin modelling showing moderate to high heritability. No similar study has been conducted in the world largest and rapidly ageing Chinese population living under distinct environmental condition as the Western populations.Objective: this study aims to explore the genetic and environmental impact on normal cognitive ageing in the Chinese twins.Design/setting: cognitive function was measured on 384 complete twin pairs with median age of 50 years for seven cognitive measurements including visuospatial, linguistic skills, naming, memory, attention, abstraction and orientation abilities. Data were analysed by fitting univariate and bivariate twin models to estimate the genetic and environmental components in the variance and co-variance of the cognitive assessments.Results: intra-pair correlation on cognitive measurements was low to moderate in monozygotic twins (0.23-0.41, overall 0.42) and low in dizygotic twins (0.05-0.30, overall 0.31) with the former higher than the latter for each item. Estimate for heritability was moderate for overall cognitive function (0.44, 95% CI: 0.34-0.53) and low to moderate for visuospatial, naming, attention and orientation abilities ranging from 0.28 to 0.38. No genetic contribution was estimated to linguistic skill, abstraction and memory which instead were under low to moderate control by shared environmental factors accounting for 23-33% of the total variances. In contrast, all cognitive performances showed moderate to high influences by the unique environmental factors.Conclusions: genetic factor and common family environment have a limited contribution to cognitive function in the Chinese adults. Individual unique environment is likely to play a major role in determining the levels of cognitive performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)452-457
Number of pages6
JournalAge and Ageing
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number 31371024).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Geriatrics Society. All rights reserved.


  • Ageing
  • Chinese twins
  • Cognitive function
  • Heritability
  • Older people


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