BACKGROUND: Heart rate (HR), mean arterial pressure (MAP) and carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) are moderately heritable cardiovascular traits, but the environmental effects on the longitudinal change of their heritability have never been investigated.
METHODS: 368 Italian and Hungarian twins (107 monozygotic, 77 dizygotic) underwent oscillometric measurement and B-mode sonography of bilateral carotid arteries in 2009/10 and 2014. Within-individual/cross-study wave, cross-twin/within-study wave and cross-twin/cross-study wave correlations were estimated, and bivariate Cholesky models were fitted to decompose the total variance at each wave and covariance between study waves into additive genetic, shared and unique environmental components.
RESULTS: For each trait, a moderate longitudinal stability was observed, with within-individual/cross-wave correlations of 0.42 (95% CI: 0.33-0.51) for HR, 0.34 (95% CI: 0.24-0.43) for MAP, and 0.23 (95% CI: 0.12-0.33) for cIMT. Cross-twin/cross-wave correlations in monozygotic pairs were all significant and substantially higher than the corresponding dizygotic correlations. Genetic continuity was the main source of longitudinal stability, with across-time genetic correlations of 0.52 (95% CI: 0.29-0.71) for HR, 0.56 (95% CI: 0.31-0.81) for MAP, and 0.36 (95% CI: 0.07-0.64) for cIMT. Overlapping genetic factors explained respectively 57%, 77%, and 68% of the longitudinal covariance of the HR, MAP and cIMT traits.
CONCLUSIONS: Genetic factors have a substantial role in the longitudinal change of HR, MAP and cIMT; however, the influence of unique environmental factors remains relevant. Further studies should better elucidate whether epigenetic mechanisms have a role in influencing the stability of the investigated traits over time.