Genetic and Environmental Influences on Language Ability in Older Adults: Findings from the Older Australian Twins Study

  • T. Lee
  • A. Thalamuthu
  • J. D. Henry
  • J. N. Trollor
  • D. Ames
  • M. J. Wright
  • P. S. Sachdev
  • OATS Research Team
Original Research


We used a sub-sample from the Older Australian Twins Study to estimate the heritability of performance on three tests of language ability: Boston Naming Test (BNT), Letter/Phonemic Fluency (FAS) and Category/Semantic Fluency (CFT) Tests. After adjusting for age, sex, education, mood, and global cognition (GC), heritability estimates obtained for the three tests were 0.35, 0.59, and 0.20, respectively. Multivariate analyses showed that the genetic correlation were high for BNT and CFT (0.61), but low for BNT and FAS (0.17), and for FAS and CFT (0.28). Genetic modelling with Cholesky decomposition indicated that the covariation between the three measures could be explained by a common genetic factor. Environmental correlations between the language ability measures were low, and there were considerable specific environmental influences for each measure. Future longitudinal studies with language performance and neuroimaging data can further our understanding of genetic and environmental factors involved in the process of cognitive aging.


Genetic Heritability Twins Aging Language ability 



This research was facilitated through the Australian Twin Registry, a national research resource in part supported by a Centre of Research Excellence Grant from the NHMRC (ID No. 1079102). We thank the participants for their generous contributions to this study. We also thank and acknowledge the editorial assistance of Dr Sophia Dean in the preparation of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

T. Lee, A. Thalamuthu, J. D. Henry, J. N. Trollor, D. Ames, M. J. Wright, P. S. Sachdev and OATS Research Team declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures/assessments performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with, and approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee (HC No. 12599) of the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Human and animal rights

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000 (5).

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the Older Australian Twins Study.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. Lee
    • 1
    • 2
    • 7
  • A. Thalamuthu
    • 1
  • J. D. Henry
    • 3
  • J. N. Trollor
    • 1
    • 4
  • D. Ames
    • 6
  • M. J. Wright
    • 3
    • 5
  • P. S. Sachdev
    • 1
    • 2
  • OATS Research Team
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, School of PsychiatryUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Neuropsychiatric InstitutePrince of Wales HospitalRandwickAustralia
  3. 3.School of PsychologyUniversity of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  4. 4.Department of Developmental Disability NeuropsychiatryUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  5. 5.Queensland Brain InstituteUniversity of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  6. 6.St George’s HospitalUniversity of Melbourne Academic Unit for Psychiatry of Old AgeVictoriaAustralia
  7. 7.Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), NPI Euroa Centre, Prince of Wales HospitalUNSW SydneyRandwickAustralia

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