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Genet Epidemiol. 1999;16(1):40-53.

Genetic and environmental contributions to size, color, shape, and other characteristics of melanocytic naevi in a sample of adolescent twins.

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Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia.


The presence of melanocytic naevi is the strongest known risk factor for malignant melanoma. We have developed a computer imaging system with which it is possible to make quantitative measures of the size, color, and shape of pigmented lesions. The objective of this study was to examine the genetic and environmental contributions to these characteristics of naevi as measured by computer image analysis in a sample of adolescent twins. We captured video images of the 5 most atypical pigmented skin lesions (i.e., the largest, darkest, or most irregularly shaped) on each individual from 322 Australian adolescent twin pairs. Features extracted by computer image analysis for each lesion included color, size, symmetry, elongation, boundary irregularity, and edge distinctness. We found major genetic influences on the color and size of lesions accounting for between 40 and 80% of total variance. There were significant components of shared environmental influence (22-45% of total variance) for the color variables, with sun exposure the most obvious explanation. Differences between individuals in naevus color and size are largely genetic in origin although there are significant environmental contributions to color as well.

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