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Depression is known to run in families, but the effects of parental history of other psychiatric diagnoses on depression rates are less well studied. Few studies have examined the impact of parental psychopathology on depression rates in older age groups.
We established a population-based cohort including all individuals born in Denmark after 1954 and alive on their 10th birthday (N = 29 76 264). Exposure variables were maternal and paternal history of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety or ‘other’ psychiatric diagnoses. Incidence rate ratios (IRRs) were estimated using Poisson regressions.
Parental history of any psychiatric diagnosis increased incidence rates of outpatient (maternal: IRR 1.88, p < 0.0001; paternal: IRR 1.68, p < 0.0001) and inpatient (maternal: IRR 1.99, p < 0.0001; paternal: IRR 1.83, p < 0.0001) depression relative to no parental history. IRRs for parental history of non-affective disorders remained relatively stable across age groups, while IRRs for parental affective disorders (unipolar or bipolar) decreased with age from 2.29–3.96 in the youngest age group to 1.53–1.90 in the oldest group. IRR estimates for all parental diagnoses were similar among individuals aged ⩾41 years (IRR range 1.51–1.90).
Parental history of any psychiatric diagnosis is associated with increased incidence rates of unipolar depression. In younger age groups, parental history of affective diagnoses is more strongly associated with rates of unipolar depression than non-affective diagnoses; however, this distinction disappears after age 40, suggesting that parental psychopathology in general, rather than any one disorder, confers risk for depression in middle life.
Previous studies suggest that the relationship between genetic risk and depression may be moderated by stressful life events (SLEs). The goal of this study was to assess whether SLEs moderate the association between polygenic risk of major depressive disorder (MDD) and depressive symptoms in older adults.
We used logistic and negative binomial regressions to assess the associations between polygenic risk, SLEs and depressive symptoms in a sample of 8761 participants from the Health and Retirement Study. Polygenic scores were derived from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium genome-wide association study of MDD. SLEs were operationalized as a dichotomous variable indicating whether participants had experienced at least one stressful event during the previous 2 years. Depressive symptoms were measured using an eight-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale subscale and operationalized as both a dichotomous and a count variable.
The odds of reporting four or more depressive symptoms were over twice as high among individuals who experienced at least one SLE (odds ratio 2.19, 95% confidence interval 1.86–2.58). Polygenic scores were significantly associated with depressive symptoms (β = 0.21, p ⩽ 0.0001), although the variance explained was modest (pseudo r2 = 0.0095). None of the interaction terms for polygenic scores and SLEs was statistically significant.
Polygenic risk and SLEs are robust, independent predictors of depressive symptoms in older adults. Consistent with an additive model, we found no evidence that SLEs moderated the association between common variant polygenic risk and depressive symptoms.
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