DNA evidence for strong genome-wide pleiotropy of cognitive and learning abilities

Maciej Trzaskowski*, Oliver S P Davis, John C. Defries, Jian Yang, Peter M. Visscher, Robert Plomin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Very different neurocognitive processes appear to be involved in cognitive abilities such as verbal and non-verbal ability as compared to learning abilities taught in schools such as reading and mathematics. However, twin studies that compare similarity for monozygotic and dizygotic twins suggest that the same genes are largely responsible for genetic influence on these diverse aspects of cognitive function. It is now possible to test this evidence for strong pleiotropy using DNA alone from samples of unrelated individuals. Here we used this new method with 1.7 million DNA markers for a sample of 2,500 unrelated children at age 12 to investigate for the first time the extent of pleiotropy between general cognitive ability (aka intelligence) and learning abilities (reading, mathematics and language skills). We also compared these DNA results to results from twin analyses using the same sample and measures. The DNA-based method revealed strong genome-wide pleiotropy: Genetic correlations were greater than 0.70 between general cognitive ability and language, reading, and mathematics, results that were highly similar to twin study estimates of genetic correlations. These results indicate that genes related to diverse neurocognitive processes have general rather than specific effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-273
Number of pages7
JournalBehavior Genetics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2013


  • Cognition
  • GCTA
  • Heritability
  • Intelligence
  • Language
  • Learning abilities
  • Mathematics
  • Pleiotropy
  • Twins


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