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Major depression (MD) is often characterised as a categorical disorder; however, observational studies comparing sub-threshold and clinical depression suggest MD is continuous. Many of these studies do not explore the full continuum and are yet to consider genetics as a risk factor. This study sought to understand if polygenic risk for MD could provide insight into the continuous nature of depression.
Factor analysis on symptom-level data from the UK Biobank (N = 148 957) was used to derive continuous depression phenotypes which were tested for association with polygenic risk scores (PRS) for a categorical definition of MD (N = 119 692).
Confirmatory factor analysis showed a five-factor hierarchical model, incorporating 15 of the original 18 items taken from the PHQ-9, GAD-7 and subjective well-being questionnaires, produced good fit to the observed covariance matrix (CFI = 0.992, TLI = 0.99, RMSEA = 0.038, SRMR = 0.031). MD PRS associated with each factor score (standardised β range: 0.057–0.064) and the association remained when the sample was stratified into case- and control-only subsets. The case-only subset had an increased association compared to controls for all factors, shown via a significant interaction between lifetime MD diagnosis and MD PRS (p value range: 2.23 × 10−3–3.94 × 10−7).
An association between MD PRS and a continuous phenotype of depressive symptoms in case- and control-only subsets provides support against a purely categorical phenotype; indicating further insights into MD can be obtained when this within-group variation is considered. The stronger association within cases suggests this variation may be of particular importance.
UK Biobank is a well-characterised cohort of over 500 000 participants including genetics, environmental data and imaging. An online mental health questionnaire was designed for UK Biobank participants to expand its potential.
Describe the development, implementation and results of this questionnaire.
An expert working group designed the questionnaire, using established measures where possible, and consulting a patient group. Operational criteria were agreed for defining likely disorder and risk states, including lifetime depression, mania/hypomania, generalised anxiety disorder, unusual experiences and self-harm, and current post-traumatic stress and hazardous/harmful alcohol use.
A total of 157 366 completed online questionnaires were available by August 2017. Participants were aged 45–82 (53% were ≥65 years) and 57% women. Comparison of self-reported diagnosed mental disorder with a contemporary study shows a similar prevalence, despite respondents being of higher average socioeconomic status. Lifetime depression was a common finding, with 24% (37 434) of participants meeting criteria and current hazardous/harmful alcohol use criteria were met by 21% (32 602), whereas other criteria were met by less than 8% of the participants. There was extensive comorbidity among the syndromes. Mental disorders were associated with a high neuroticism score, adverse life events and long-term illness; addiction and bipolar affective disorder in particular were associated with measures of deprivation.
The UK Biobank questionnaire represents a very large mental health survey in itself, and the results presented here show high face validity, although caution is needed because of selection bias. Built into UK Biobank, these data intersect with other health data to offer unparalleled potential for crosscutting biomedical research involving mental health.
UK Biobank is a well-characterised cohort of over 500 000 participants that offers unique opportunities to investigate multiple diseases and risk factors.
An online mental health questionnaire completed by UK Biobank participants was expected to expand the potential for research into mental disorders.
An expert working group designed the questionnaire, using established measures where possible, and consulting with a patient group regarding acceptability. Case definitions were defined using operational criteria for lifetime depression, mania, anxiety disorder, psychotic-like experiences and self-harm, as well as current post-traumatic stress and alcohol use disorders.
157 366 completed online questionnaires were available by August 2017. Comparison of self-reported diagnosed mental disorder with a contemporary study shows a similar prevalence, despite respondents being of higher average socioeconomic status than the general population across a range of indicators. Thirty-five per cent (55 750) of participants had at least one defined syndrome, of which lifetime depression was the most common at 24% (37 434). There was extensive comorbidity among the syndromes. Mental disorders were associated with high neuroticism score, adverse life events and long-term illness; addiction and bipolar affective disorder in particular were associated with measures of deprivation.
The questionnaire represents a very large mental health survey in itself, and the results presented here show high face validity, although caution is needed owing to selection bias. Built into UK Biobank, these data intersect with other health data to offer unparalleled potential for crosscutting biomedical research involving mental health.
Declaration of interest
G.B. received grants from the National Institute for Health Research during the study; and support from Illumina Ltd. and the European Commission outside the submitted work. B.C. received grants from the Scottish Executive Chief Scientist Office and from The Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation during the study. C.S. received grants from the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust during the study, and is the Chief Scientist for UK Biobank. M.H. received grants from the Innovative Medicines Initiative via the RADAR-CNS programme and personal fees as an expert witness outside the submitted work.
Anxiety disorders are common, and cognitive–behavioural therapy (CBT) is a first-line treatment. Candidate gene studies have suggested a genetic basis to treatment response, but findings have been inconsistent.
To perform the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) of psychological treatment response in children with anxiety disorders (n = 980).
Presence and severity of anxiety was assessed using semi-structured interview at baseline, on completion of treatment (post-treatment), and 3 to 12 months after treatment completion (follow-up). DNA was genotyped using the Illumina Human Core Exome-12v1.0 array. Linear mixed models were used to test associations between genetic variants and response (change in symptom severity) immediately post-treatment and at 6-month follow-up.
No variants passed a genome-wide significance threshold (P=5×10–8) in either analysis. Four variants met criteria for suggestive significance (P<5×10–6) in association with response post-treatment, and three variants in the 6-month follow-up analysis.
This is the first genome-wide therapygenetic study. It suggests no common variants of very high effect underlie response to CBT. Future investigations should maximise power to detect single-variant and polygenic effects by using larger, more homogeneous cohorts.
We previously reported an association between 5HTTLPR genotype and
outcome following cognitive–behavioural therapy (CBT) in child anxiety
(Cohort 1). Children homozygous for the low-expression short-allele
showed more positive outcomes. Other similar studies have produced mixed
results, with most reporting no association between genotype and CBT
To replicate the association between 5HTTLPR and CBT outcome in child
anxiety from the Genes for Treatment study (GxT Cohort 2,
n = 829).
Logistic and linear mixed effects models were used to examine the
relationship between 5HTTLPR and CBT outcomes. Mega-analyses using both
cohorts were performed.
There was no significant effect of 5HTTLPR on CBT outcomes in Cohort 2.
Mega-analyses identified a significant association between 5HTTLPR and
remission from all anxiety disorders at follow-up (odds ratio 0.45,
P = 0.014), but not primary anxiety disorder
The association between 5HTTLPR genotype and CBT outcome did not
replicate. Short-allele homozygotes showed more positive treatment
outcomes, but with small, non-significant effects. Future studies would
benefit from utilising whole genome approaches and large, homogenous
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