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Parental depression and offspring psychopathology: a Children of Twins study

  • A. L. Singh (a1), B. M. D'Onofrio (a1), W. S. Slutske (a2), E. Turkheimer (a3), R. E. Emery (a3), K. P. Harden (a3), A. C. Heath (a4), P. A. F. Madden (a4), D. J. Statham (a5) (a6) and N. G. Martin (a5)...



Associations between parental depression and offspring affective and disruptive disorders are well documented. Few genetically informed studies have explored the processes underlying intergenerational associations.


A semi-structured interview assessing DSM-III-R psychiatric disorders was administered to twins (n=1296) from the Australian Twin Register (ATR), their spouses (n=1046) and offspring (n=2555). We used the Children of Twins (CoT) design to delineate the extent to which intergenerational associations were consistent with a causal influence or due to genetic confounds.


In between-family analyses, parental depression was associated significantly with offspring depression [hazard ratio (HR) 1.52, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.20–1.93] and conduct disorder (CD; HR 2.27, CI 1.31–3.93). Survival analysis indicated that the intergenerational transmission of depression is consistent with a causal (environmental) inference, with a significant intergenerational association in offspring of discordant monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs (HR 1.39, CI 1.00–1.94). Logistic regression analysis suggested that the parental depression–offspring CD association was due to shared genetic liability in the parents and offspring. No intergenerational association was found when comparing the offspring of discordant MZ twins [odds ratio (OR) 1.41, CI 0.63–3.14], but offspring of discordant dizygotic (DZ) twins differed in their rates of CD (OR 2.53, CI 0.95–6.76). All findings remained after controlling for several measured covariates, including history of depression and CD in the twins' spouses.


The mechanisms underlying associations between parental depression and offspring psychopathology seem to differ depending on the outcome. The results are consistent with a causal environmental role of parental depression in offspring depression whereas common genetic factors account for the association of parental depression and offspring CD.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: A. L. Singh, Ph.D., Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, 1101 E. Tenth Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA. (Email:


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