The Influence of Genes and Environments on the Gap-Overlap Task

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
M. Siqueiros Sanchez1, D. P. Kennedy2, E. Pettersson3, S. Bolte4, B. D'Onofrio2, P. Lichtenstein5 and T. Falck-Ytter6, (1)Center of Neurodevelopmental Disorders at Karolinska Institutet (KIND), Institutionen för kvinnors och barns hälsa (KBH), Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, (2)Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, (3)Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics (MEB), Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, (4)Center for Neurodevelopmental Disorders (KIND), Center for Psychiatry Research, Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, (5)Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, (6)Karolinska Institutet & Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
Background: Atypicalities in attention are often found in neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism. The “gap-overlap task” is an eye-tracking paradigm that assesses the ability to disengage attention from a stimulus and orient toward a new one (visual disengagement). Although related, visual disengagement is thought to be a distinguishable construct from basic oculomotor control. Support for this thesis mostly comes from animal studies and a few small studies in humans using electroencephalogram (Csibra, Johnson, & Tucker, 1997). By studying the degree of genetic and environmental influences to individual differences in the gap-overlap task, we can assess if visual disengagement is an etiologically distinct construct. This can be done with multivariate analysis of twin data, which allows for establishing the relative influence of shared versus unique contributions of genes and environments to the measure.

Objectives: To study genetic and environmental influences on the gap-overlap task.

Methods: Classical twin design. The sample consisted of 492 twins (120 monozygotic pairs; 126 dizygotic pairs) from the general population, ranging in age from 9-14 years, recruited from the Child and Adolescent Twin Study in Sweden (CATSS). The gap-overlap task was performed using a Tobii T120 eye tracker. In this task a central stimulus (CS) appears on a screen and is followed by a new stimulus that appears on the periphery (PS). The task has three conditions: (1) “The gap” where the CS disappears before the PS appears, (2) “The baseline” where the CS disappears simultaneously as the PS appears, (3) “The overlap” where the CS remains on screen when the PS appears. The dependent variable was the median saccadic latency of gaze arrival at the PS. Multivariate twin modelling was used to analyze the genetic and environmental contributions to the variances and covariance among saccadic latencies.

Results: A common pathway model provided the best fit for the data. The covariance between the conditions was best explained by one shared factor with a primarily genetic background (63%). Significant unique genetic effects were found for the baseline (17%) and the overlap (15%) conditions, but not for the gap condition. Shared environment did not influence the experimental conditions (neither common nor unique).

Conclusions: Performance in the gap-overlap paradigm is primarily influenced by genetic effects, most of which are shared between the three conditions. This is expected since all conditions engage basic oculomotor functions (shifting the gaze from one stimuli to another). We found unique genetic effects in the overlap condition, which is in line with the view that this condition captures a distinct attentional function in addition to oculomotor control. We found no unique genetic effects in the gap condition. Surprisingly, we found unique genetic effects in the baseline condition, suggesting that it may be problematic to operationalize “the disengagement effect” as the difference between the overlap and the baseline conditions (resulting in a less clean comparison due to different genetic factors influencing each condition), as it sometimes done, at this age. This study illustrates how twin studies can enrich our understanding of experimental measures frequently used in autism research.