Heritability and individuality of the plasma sodium concentration: A twin study in the United States veteran population

Andrew K. Timmons, Anna M. Korpak, Jenny Tan, Kathryn P. Moore, Cindy H. Liu, Christopher W. Forsberg, Jack Goldberg, Nicholas L. Smith, David M. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Little is known about the population genetics of water balance. A recent meta-genome-wide association study on plasma sodium concentration identified novel loci of high biological plausibility, yet heritability of the phenotype has never been convincingly shown in European ancestry. The present study linked the Vietnam Era Twin Registry with the Department of Veterans Affairs VistA patient care clinical database. Participants (n = 2,370, 59.6% monozygotic twins and 40.4% dizygotic twins) had a median of seven (interquartile range: 3-14) plasma sodium determinations between October 1999 and March 2017. Heritability of the mean plasma sodium concentration among all twins was 0.41 (95% confidence interval: 0.35-0.46) and 0.49 (95% confidence interval: 0.43-0.54) after exclusion of 514 twins with only a single plasma sodium determination. Heritability among Caucasian (n = 1,958) and Afri-can-American (n = 268) twins was 0.41 (95% confidence interval: 0.34-0.47) and 0.36 (95% confidence interval: 0.17-0.52), respectively. Exclusion of data from twins who had been prescribed medications known to impact systemic water balance had no effect. The ability of the present study to newly detect substantial heritability across multiple racial groups was potentially a function of the cohort size and relatedness, exclusion of sodium determinations confounded by elevated plasma glucose and/or reduced glomerular filtration rate, transformation of plasma sodium for the independent osmotic effect of plasma glucose, and use of multiple laboratory determinations per individual over a period of years. Individual-level plasma sodium concentration exhibited longitudinal stability (i.e., individuality); the degree to which individual-level means differed from the population mean was substantial, irrespective of the number of determinations. In aggregate, these data establish the heritability of plasma sodium concentration in European ancestry and corroborate its individuality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)F1114-F1123
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Renal Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • Genetics
  • Human
  • Hypernatremia
  • Hyponatremia
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Urology


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