Identification of loci involved in childhood visual acuity and associations with cognitive skills and educational attainment

Judith Schmitz, Filippo Abbondanza, Krzysztof Marianski, Michelle Luciano, Silvia Paracchini*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Visual acuity significantly contributes to quality of life. Deficits in childhood are associated with reading difficulties, which can have detrimental effects on education outcomes. In adults, it has been observed that vision defects such as myopia are associated with higher educational attainment (EA). Understanding genetic factors contributing to visual acuity could help to dissect its links with cognitive skills, neurodevelopmental conditions, and education. We examined associations between distance visual acuity, cognitive measures including school grades, and neurodevelopmental conditions in a longitudinal cohort of British children (ALSPAC, n = 6807, M age = 11.8). We performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS, n = 5571) on visual acuity and tested for genetic associations with relevant phenotypes using polygenic scores (PGS) and genetic correlation analyses. Visual acuity was associated with better cognitive performance and school grades, and reduced in individuals with reading difficulties compared to controls. GWAS revealed genetic associations at the NPLOC4 locus and highlighted other genes involved in sensory function. In line with positive genetic correlations between visual acuity and cognitive measures, EA PGS were positively associated with visual acuity, while there was a less robust negative association with myopia PGS. In conclusion, increased visual acuity is associated with a range of positive outcomes, including better school grades. Our results suggest an association between a higher EA PGS and slightly increased visual acuity in childhood. This could indicate gene-environment correlation, in which environmental exposures linked to higher EA might have detrimental effects on vision offsetting the initial positive effect.
Original languageEnglish
Article number25
Number of pages10
Journalnpj Science of Learning
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2023


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