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Psychiatric disorders and related intermediate phenotypes are highly heritable and have a complex, overlapping polygenic architecture. A large-scale genome-wide association study (GWAS) of anxiety disorders identified genetic variants that are significant on a genome-wide. The current study investigated the genetic etiological overlaps between anxiety disorders and frequently cooccurring psychiatric disorders and intermediate phenotypes.
Using case–control and factor score models, we investigated the genetic correlations of anxiety disorders with eight psychiatric disorders and intermediate phenotypes [the volumes of seven subcortical brain regions, childhood cognition, general cognitive ability and personality traits (subjective well-being, loneliness, neuroticism and extraversion)] from large-scale GWASs (n = 7556–298 420) by linkage disequilibrium score regression.
Among psychiatric disorders, the risk of anxiety disorders was positively genetically correlated with the risks of major depressive disorder (MDD) (rg ± standard error = 0.83 ± 0.16, p = 1.97 × 10−7), schizophrenia (SCZ) (0.28 ± 0.09, p = 1.10 × 10−3) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (0.34 ± 0.13, p = 8.40 × 10−3). Among intermediate phenotypes, significant genetic correlations existed between the risk of anxiety disorders and neuroticism (0.81 ± 0.17, p = 1.30 × 10−6), subjective well-being (−0.73 ± 0.18, p = 4.89 × 10−5), general cognitive ability (−0.23 ± 0.08, p = 4.70 × 10−3) and putamen volume (−0.50 ± 0.18, p = 5.00 × 10−3). No other significant genetic correlations between anxiety disorders and psychiatric or intermediate phenotypes were observed (p > 0.05). The case–control model yielded stronger genetic effect sizes than the factor score model.
Our findings suggest that common genetic variants underlying the risk of anxiety disorders contribute to elevated risks of MDD, SCZ, ADHD and neuroticism and reduced quality of life, putamen volume and cognitive performance. We suggest that the comorbidity of anxiety disorders is partly explained by common genetic variants.
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