A genome-wide association study of Chinese and English language phenotypes in Hong Kong Chinese children

Yu-Ping Lin, Yujia Shi, Ruoyu Zhang, Xiao Xue, Shitao Rao, Liangying Yin, Kelvin Fai Hong Lui, Dora Jue Pan, Urs Maurer, Kwong-Wai Choy, Silvia Paracchini, Catherine McBride, Hon-Cheong So*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dyslexia and developmental language disorders are important learning difficulties. However, their genetic basis remains poorly understood, and most genetic studies were performed on Europeans. There is a lack of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) on literacy phenotypes of Chinese as a native language and English as a second language (ESL) in a Chinese population. In this study, we conducted GWAS on 34 reading/language-related phenotypes in Hong Kong Chinese bilingual children (including both twins and singletons; total N = 1046). We performed association tests at the single-variant, gene, and pathway levels. In addition, we tested genetic overlap of these phenotypes with other neuropsychiatric disorders, as well as cognitive performance (CP) and educational attainment (EA) using polygenic risk score (PRS) analysis. Totally 5 independent loci (LD-clumped at r2 = 0.01; MAF > 0.05) reached genome-wide significance (p < 5e-08; filtered by imputation quality metric Rsq>0.3 and having at least 2 correlated SNPs (r2 > 0.5) with p < 1e-3). The loci were associated with a range of language/literacy traits such as Chinese vocabulary, character and word reading, and rapid digit naming, as well as English lexical decision. Several SNPs from these loci mapped to genes that were reported to be associated with EA and other neuropsychiatric phenotypes, such as MANEA and PLXNC1. In PRS analysis, EA and CP showed the most consistent and significant polygenic overlap with a variety of language traits, especially English literacy skills. To summarize, this study revealed the genetic basis of Chinese and English abilities in a group of Chinese bilingual children. Further studies are warranted to replicate the findings.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
Journalnpj Science of Learning
Issue number26
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2024


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