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Schizophrenia (SZ), bipolar disorder (BD) and depression (D) run in families. This susceptibility is partly due to hundreds or thousands of common genetic variants, each conferring a fractional risk. The cumulative effects of the associated variants can be summarised as a polygenic risk score (PRS). Using data from the EUropean Network of national schizophrenia networks studying Gene-Environment Interactions (EU-GEI) first episode case–control study, we aimed to test whether PRSs for three major psychiatric disorders (SZ, BD, D) and for intelligent quotient (IQ) as a neurodevelopmental proxy, can discriminate affective psychosis (AP) from schizophrenia-spectrum disorder (SSD).
Participants (842 cases, 1284 controls) from 16 European EU-GEI sites were successfully genotyped following standard quality control procedures. The sample was stratified based on genomic ancestry and analyses were done only on the subsample representing the European population (573 cases, 1005 controls). Using PRS for SZ, BD, D, and IQ built from the latest available summary statistics, we performed simple or multinomial logistic regression models adjusted for 10 principal components for the different clinical comparisons.
In case–control comparisons PRS-SZ, PRS-BD and PRS-D distributed differentially across psychotic subcategories. In case–case comparisons, both PRS-SZ [odds ratio (OR) = 0.7, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.54–0.92] and PRS-D (OR = 1.31, 95% CI 1.06–1.61) differentiated AP from SSD; and within AP categories, only PRS-SZ differentiated BD from psychotic depression (OR = 2.14, 95% CI 1.23–3.74).
Combining PRS for severe psychiatric disorders in prediction models for psychosis phenotypes can increase discriminative ability and improve our understanding of these phenotypes. Our results point towards the potential usefulness of PRSs in specific populations such as high-risk or early psychosis phases.
Mood disorders are characterised by pronounced symptom heterogeneity, which presents a substantial challenge both to clinical practice and research. Identification of subgroups of individuals with homogeneous symptom profiles that cut across current diagnostic categories could provide insights in to the transdiagnostic relevance of individual symptoms, which current categorical diagnostic systems cannot impart.
To identify groups of people with homogeneous clinical characteristics, using symptoms of manic and/or irritable mood, and explore differences between groups in diagnoses, functional outcomes and genetic liability.
We used latent class analysis on eight binary self-reported symptoms of manic and irritable mood in the UK Biobank and PROTECT studies, to investigate how individuals formed latent subgroups. We tested associations between the latent classes and diagnoses of psychiatric disorders, sociodemographic characteristics and polygenic risk scores.
Five latent classes were derived in UK Biobank (N = 42 183) and were replicated in the independent PROTECT cohort (N = 4445), including ‘minimally affected’, ‘inactive restless’, active restless’, ‘focused creative’ and ‘extensively affected’ individuals. These classes differed in disorder risk, polygenic risk score and functional outcomes. One class that experienced disruptive episodes of mostly irritable mood largely comprised cases of depression/anxiety, and a class of individuals with increased confidence/creativity reported comparatively lower disruptiveness and functional impairment.
Findings suggest that data-driven investigations of psychopathological symptoms that include sub-diagnostic threshold conditions can complement research of clinical diagnoses. Improved classification systems of psychopathology could investigate a weighted approach to symptoms, toward a more dimensional classification of mood disorders.
A history of childhood adversity is associated with psychotic disorder, with an increase in risk according to the number of exposures. However, it is not known why only some exposed individuals go on to develop psychosis. One possibility is pre-existing polygenic vulnerability. Here, we investigated, in the largest sample of first-episode psychosis (FEP) cases to date, whether childhood adversity and high polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia (SZ-PRS) combine synergistically to increase the risk of psychosis, over and above the effect of each alone.
We assigned a schizophrenia-polygenic risk score (SZ-PRS), calculated from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC2), to all participants in a sample of 384 FEP patients and 690 controls from the case–control component of the EU-GEI study. Only participants of European ancestry were included in the study. A history of childhood adversity was collected using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ). Synergistic effects were estimated using the interaction contrast ratio (ICR) [odds ratio (OR)exposure and PRS − ORexposure − ORPRS + 1] with adjustment for potential confounders.
There was some evidence that the combined effect of childhood adversities and polygenic risk was greater than the sum of each alone, as indicated by an ICR greater than zero [i.e. ICR 1.28, 95% confidence interval (CI) −1.29 to 3.85]. Examining subtypes of childhood adversities, the strongest synergetic effect was observed for physical abuse (ICR 6.25, 95% CI −6.25 to 20.88).
Our findings suggest possible synergistic effects of genetic liability and childhood adversity experiences in the onset of FEP, but larger samples are needed to increase precision of estimates.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) are commonly reported co-occurring mental health consequences of psychological trauma exposure. The disorders have high genetic overlap. Trauma is a complex phenotype but research suggests that trauma sensitivity has a heritable basis. We investigated whether sensitivity to trauma in those with MDD reflects a similar genetic component in those with PTSD.
Genetic correlations between PTSD and MDD in individuals reporting trauma and MDD in individuals not reporting trauma were estimated, as well as with recurrent MDD and single-episode MDD, using genome-wide association study (GWAS) summary statistics. Genetic correlations were replicated using PTSD data from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium and the Million Veteran Program. Polygenic risk scores were generated in UK Biobank participants who met the criteria for lifetime MDD (N = 29 471). We investigated whether genetic loading for PTSD was associated with reporting trauma in these individuals.
Genetic loading for PTSD was significantly associated with reporting trauma in individuals with MDD [OR 1.04 (95% CI 1.01–1.07), Empirical-p = 0.02]. PTSD was significantly more genetically correlated with recurrent MDD than with MDD in individuals not reporting trauma (rg differences = ~0.2, p < 0.008). Participants who had experienced recurrent MDD reported significantly higher rates of trauma than participants who had experienced single-episode MDD (χ2 > 166, p < 0.001)
Our findings point towards the existence of genetic variants associated with trauma sensitivity that might be shared between PTSD and MDD, although replication with better powered GWAS is needed. Our findings corroborate previous research highlighting trauma exposure as a key risk factor for recurrent MDD.
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.
Daily use of high-potency cannabis has been reported to carry a high risk for developing a psychotic disorder. However, the evidence is mixed on whether any pattern of cannabis use is associated with a particular symptomatology in first-episode psychosis (FEP) patients.
We analysed data from 901 FEP patients and 1235 controls recruited across six countries, as part of the European Network of National Schizophrenia Networks Studying Gene-Environment Interactions (EU-GEI) study. We used item response modelling to estimate two bifactor models, which included general and specific dimensions of psychotic symptoms in patients and psychotic experiences in controls. The associations between these dimensions and cannabis use were evaluated using linear mixed-effects models analyses.
In patients, there was a linear relationship between the positive symptom dimension and the extent of lifetime exposure to cannabis, with daily users of high-potency cannabis having the highest score (B = 0.35; 95% CI 0.14–0.56). Moreover, negative symptoms were more common among patients who never used cannabis compared with those with any pattern of use (B = −0.22; 95% CI −0.37 to −0.07). In controls, psychotic experiences were associated with current use of cannabis but not with the extent of lifetime use. Neither patients nor controls presented differences in depressive dimension related to cannabis use.
Our findings provide the first large-scale evidence that FEP patients with a history of daily use of high-potency cannabis present with more positive and less negative symptoms, compared with those who never used cannabis or used low-potency types.
Risk prediction algorithms have long been used in health research and practice (e.g. prediction of cardiovascular disease and diabetes). However, similar tools have not been developed for mental health. For example, for psychotic disorders, attempts to sum environmental risk are rare, unsystematic and dictated by available data. In light of this, we sought to develop a valid, easy to use measure of the aggregate environmental risk score (ERS) for psychotic disorders.
We reviewed the literature to identify well-replicated and validated environmental risk factors for psychosis that combine a significant effect and large-enough prevalence. Pooled estimates of relative risks were taken from the largest available meta-analyses. We devised a method of scoring the level of exposure to each risk factor to estimate ERS. Relative risks were rounded as, due to the heterogeneity of the original studies, risk effects are imprecisely measured.
Six risk factors (ethnic minority status, urbanicity, high paternal age, obstetric complications, cannabis use and childhood adversity) were used to generate the ERS. A distribution for different levels of risk based on simulated data showed that most of the population would be at low/moderate risk with a small minority at increased environmental risk for psychosis.
This is the first systematic approach to develop an aggregate measure of environmental risk for psychoses in asymptomatic individuals. This can be used as a continuous measure of liability to disease; mostly relevant to areas where the original studies took place. Its predictive ability will improve with the collection of additional, population-specific data.
The value of the nosological distinction between non-affective and affective psychosis has frequently been challenged. We aimed to investigate the transdiagnostic dimensional structure and associated characteristics of psychopathology at First Episode Psychosis (FEP). Regardless of diagnostic categories, we expected that positive symptoms occurred more frequently in ethnic minority groups and in more densely populated environments, and that negative symptoms were associated with indices of neurodevelopmental impairment.
This study included 2182 FEP individuals recruited across six countries, as part of the EUropean network of national schizophrenia networks studying Gene–Environment Interactions (EU-GEI) study. Symptom ratings were analysed using multidimensional item response modelling in Mplus to estimate five theory-based models of psychosis. We used multiple regression models to examine demographic and context factors associated with symptom dimensions.
A bifactor model, composed of one general factor and five specific dimensions of positive, negative, disorganization, manic and depressive symptoms, best-represented associations among ratings of psychotic symptoms. Positive symptoms were more common in ethnic minority groups. Urbanicity was associated with a higher score on the general factor. Men presented with more negative and less depressive symptoms than women. Early age-at-first-contact with psychiatric services was associated with higher scores on negative, disorganized, and manic symptom dimensions.
Our results suggest that the bifactor model of psychopathology holds across diagnostic categories of non-affective and affective psychosis at FEP, and demographic and context determinants map onto general and specific symptom dimensions. These findings have implications for tailoring symptom-specific treatments and inform research into the mood-psychosis spectrum.
There is increasing evidence for shared genetic susceptibility between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Although genetic variants only convey subtle increases in risk individually, their combination into a polygenic risk score constitutes a strong disease predictor.
To investigate whether schizophrenia and bipolar disorder polygenic risk scores can distinguish people with broadly defined psychosis and their unaffected relatives from controls.
Using the latest Psychiatric Genomics Consortium data, we calculated schizophrenia and bipolar disorder polygenic risk scores for 1168 people with psychosis, 552 unaffected relatives and 1472 controls.
Patients with broadly defined psychosis had dramatic increases in schizophrenia and bipolar polygenic risk scores, as did their relatives, albeit to a lesser degree. However, the accuracy of predictive models was modest.
Although polygenic risk scores are not ready for clinical use, it is hoped that as they are refined they could help towards risk reduction advice and early interventions for psychosis.
Declaration of interest
R.M.M. has received honoraria for lectures from Janssen, Lundbeck, Lilly, Otsuka and Sunovian.
People born in densely populated areas have a higher risk of developing
schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism.
The purpose of this study was to investigate whether urban–rural
differences in place of birth influence a broad range of mental
Population-based cohort study of everyone born in Denmark between 1955
and 2006 (n = 2 894 640). Main outcome measures were
incidence rate ratios for five levels of urbanisation and summary
estimates contrasting birth in the capital with birth in rural areas.
For all psychiatric disorders, except intellectual disability (ICD-10
‘mental retardation’) and behavioural and emotional disorders with onset
in childhood, people born in the capital had a higher incidence than
people born in rural areas.
Birth in an urban environment is associated with an increased risk for
mental illness in general and for a broad range of specific psychiatric
disorders. Given this new evidence that urban–rural differences in
incidence are not confined to the well-studied psychotic disorders,
further work is needed to identify the underlying aetiopathogenic
A number of studies with conflicting results have examined the
familiality of schizophrenia syndromes in Western populations.
The objective of this study was to determine, using clinical data from
concordant sibling pairs, whether symptom dimensions and other clinical
characteristics of schizophrenia show familial aggregation and are
therefore potentially useful traits in genetic studies.
We measured clinical and demographic features, and symptom dimensions of
schizophrenia in 137 families from China who had two or more affected
members with schizophrenia. Within-sibling pair correlation was assessed
with intraclass correlation coefficient and kappa statistics.
Global functioning, positive, disorganisation and dysphoric symptoms,
premorbid schizotypal and schizoid traits, premorbid social adjustment,
type and age at illness onset all showed significant evidence of familial
aggregation. DSM–IV schizophrenia subtypes were also found to be
This is the first study in a large non-European population to confirm
that schizophrenia dimensions and clinical characteristics show
significant familiality, implying possible heritability. This supports
their use in the delineation of homogeneous subsets for future genetic
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