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Childhood trauma and adversity are common across societies and have strong associations with physical and psychiatric morbidity throughout the life-course. One possible mechanism through which childhood trauma may predispose individuals to poor psychiatric outcomes is via associations with brain structure. This study aimed to elucidate the associations between childhood trauma and brain structure across two large, independent community cohorts.
The two samples comprised (i) a subsample of Generation Scotland (n=1,024); and (ii) individuals from UK Biobank (n=27,202). This comprised n=28,226 for mega-analysis. MRI scans were processed using Free Surfer, providing cortical, subcortical, and global brain metrics. Regression models were used to determine associations between childhood trauma measures and brain metrics and psychiatric phenotypes.
Childhood trauma associated with lifetime depression across cohorts (OR 1.06 GS, 1.23 UKB), and related to early onset and recurrent course within both samples. There was evidence for associations between childhood trauma and structural brain metrics. This included reduced global brain volume, and reduced cortical surface area with highest effects in the frontal (β=−0.0385, SE=0.0048, p(FDR)=5.43x10−15) and parietal lobes (β=−0.0387, SE=0.005, p(FDR)=1.56x10−14). At a regional level the ventral diencephalon (VDc) displayed significant associations with childhood trauma measures across both cohorts and at mega-analysis (β=−0.0232, SE=0.0039, p(FDR)=2.91x10−8). There were also associations with reduced hippocampus, thalamus, and nucleus accumbens volumes.
Associations between childhood trauma and reduced global and regional brain volumes were found, across two independent UK cohorts, and at mega-analysis. This provides robust evidence for a lasting effect of childhood adversity on brain structure.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) was previously associated with negative affective biases. Evidence from larger population-based studies, however, is lacking, including whether biases normalise with remission. We investigated associations between affective bias measures and depressive symptom severity across a large community-based sample, followed by examining differences between remitted individuals and controls.
Participants from Generation Scotland (N = 1109) completed the: (i) Bristol Emotion Recognition Task (BERT), (ii) Face Affective Go/No-go (FAGN), and (iii) Cambridge Gambling Task (CGT). Individuals were classified as MDD-current (n = 43), MDD-remitted (n = 282), or controls (n = 784). Analyses included using affective bias summary measures (primary analyses), followed by detailed emotion/condition analyses of BERT and FAGN (secondary analyses).
For summary measures, the only significant finding was an association between greater symptoms and lower risk adjustment for CGT across the sample (individuals with greater symptoms were less likely to bet more, despite increasingly favourable conditions). This was no longer significant when controlling for non-affective cognition. No differences were found for remitted-MDD v. controls. Detailed analysis of BERT and FAGN indicated subtle negative biases across multiple measures of affective cognition with increasing symptom severity, that were independent of non-effective cognition [e.g. greater tendency to rate faces as angry (BERT), and lower accuracy for happy/neutral conditions (FAGN)]. Results for remitted-MDD were inconsistent.
This suggests the presence of subtle negative affective biases at the level of emotion/condition in association with depressive symptoms across the sample, over and above those accounted for by non-affective cognition, with no evidence for affective biases in remitted individuals.
The COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation measures are likely to have a marked effect on mental health. It is important to use longitudinal data to improve inferences.
To quantify the prevalence of depression, anxiety and mental well-being before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, to identify groups at risk of depression and/or anxiety during the pandemic.
Data were from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) index generation (n = 2850, mean age 28 years) and parent generation (n = 3720, mean age 59 years), and Generation Scotland (n = 4233, mean age 59 years). Depression was measured with the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire in ALSPAC and the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 in Generation Scotland. Anxiety and mental well-being were measured with the Generalised Anxiety Disorder Assessment-7 and the Short Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale.
Depression during the pandemic was similar to pre-pandemic levels in the ALSPAC index generation, but those experiencing anxiety had almost doubled, at 24% (95% CI 23–26%) compared with a pre-pandemic level of 13% (95% CI 12–14%). In both studies, anxiety and depression during the pandemic was greater in younger members, women, those with pre-existing mental/physical health conditions and individuals in socioeconomic adversity, even when controlling for pre-pandemic anxiety and depression.
These results provide evidence for increased anxiety in young people that is coincident with the pandemic. Specific groups are at elevated risk of depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is important for planning current mental health provisions and for long-term impact beyond this pandemic.
Variation in human cognitive ability is of consequence to a large number of health and social outcomes and is substantially heritable. Genetic linkage, genome-wide association, and copy number variant studies have investigated the contribution of genetic variation to individual differences in normal cognitive ability, but little research has considered the role of rare genetic variants. Exome sequencing studies have already met with success in discovering novel trait-gene associations for other complex traits. Here, we use exome sequencing to investigate the effects of rare variants on general cognitive ability. Unrelated Scottish individuals were selected for high scores on a general component of intelligence (g). The frequency of rare genetic variants (in n = 146) was compared with those from Scottish controls (total n = 486) who scored in the lower to middle range of the g distribution or on a proxy measure of g. Biological pathway analysis highlighted enrichment of the mitochondrial inner membrane component and apical part of cell gene ontology terms. Global burden analysis showed a greater total number of rare variants carried by high g cases versus controls, which is inconsistent with a mutation load hypothesis whereby mutations negatively affect g. The general finding of greater non-synonymous (vs. synonymous) variant effects is in line with evolutionary hypotheses for g. Given that this first sequencing study of high g was small, promising results were found, suggesting that the study of rare variants in larger samples would be worthwhile.