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Gene discovery and polygenic prediction from a genome-wide association study of educational attainment in 1.1 million individuals


Here we conducted a large-scale genetic association analysis of educational attainment in a sample of approximately 1.1 million individuals and identify 1,271 independent genome-wide-significant SNPs. For the SNPs taken together, we found evidence of heterogeneous effects across environments. The SNPs implicate genes involved in brain-development processes and neuron-to-neuron communication. In a separate analysis of the X chromosome, we identify 10 independent genome-wide-significant SNPs and estimate a SNP heritability of around 0.3% in both men and women, consistent with partial dosage compensation. A joint (multi-phenotype) analysis of educational attainment and three related cognitive phenotypes generates polygenic scores that explain 11–13% of the variance in educational attainment and 7–10% of the variance in cognitive performance. This prediction accuracy substantially increases the utility of polygenic scores as tools in research.

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Fig. 1: Manhattan Plot for GWAS of EduYears.
Fig. 2: Sign concordance in within-family association analyses.
Fig. 3: Tissue-specific expression of genes in DEPICT-defined loci.
Fig. 4: Prediction Accuracy.

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This research was carried out under the auspices of the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (SSGAC). The research has also been conducted using the UK Biobank Resource under application numbers 11425 and 12512. We acknowledge the Swedish Twin Registry for access to data. The Swedish Twin Registry is managed by the Karolinska Institutet and receives funding through the Swedish Research Council under the grant number 2017-00641. This study was supported by funding from the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation (E9/11, E42/15), the Swedish Research Council (421-2013-1061), The Jan Wallander and Tom Hedelius Foundation, an ERC Consolidator Grant (647648 EdGe), the Pershing Square Fund of the Foundations of Human Behavior, The Open Philanthropy Project (2016-152872), and the NIA/NIH through grants P01-AG005842, P01-AG005842-20S2, P30-AG012810 and T32-AG000186-23 to N.B.E.R. and R01-AG042568 to U.S.C. A full list of acknowledgments is provided in the Supplementary Note.

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Authors and Affiliations




D.J.B., D.C., P.T. and P.M.V. designed and oversaw the study. A.O. was the lead analyst of the study, responsible for quality control and meta-analyses. Analysts who assisted A.O. in major ways include: E.K. (quality control), O.M. (COJO, MTAG, quality control), T.A.N.-V. (figure preparation), H.L. (quality control), C.L. (quality control), J.S. (UKB association analyses) and R.K.L. (UKB association analyses). P.B. and E.K. conducted the within-family association analyses. The cross-cohort heritability and genetic-correlation analyses were conducted by R.W. and M.Z. The analyses of the X chromosome in UK Biobank were conducted by J.S.; A.O. ran the meta-analysis. J.J.L. organized and oversaw the bioinformatic analyses, with assistance from T.E., E.K., K.T., T.H.P. and P.N.T. Polygenic-prediction analyses were designed and conducted by A.O., K.T. and R.W. Besides the contributions explicitly listed above, T.K., R.L. and R.R. conducted additional analyses for several subsections. C.W. helped with the coordination of the participating cohorts. J.P.B., D.C.C., T.E., M.J., J.J.L., P.D.K., D.I.L., S.F.L., S.O., M.R.R., K.T. and J.Y. provided helpful advice and feedback on various aspects of the study design. All authors contributed to and critically reviewed the manuscript. E.K., J.J.L. and R.W. made especially large contributions to the writing and editing.

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Correspondence to Aysu Okbay, Peter M. Visscher or Daniel J. Benjamin.

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Competing interests

Anil Malhotra is a consultant for Genomind Inc., Informed DNA, Concert Pharmaceuticals, and Biogen. Nicholas A. Furlotte, Aaron Kleinman and Joyce Tung are employees of 23andMe, Inc.

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Lee, J.J., Wedow, R., Okbay, A. et al. Gene discovery and polygenic prediction from a genome-wide association study of educational attainment in 1.1 million individuals. Nat Genet 50, 1112–1121 (2018).

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