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Studying phenotypic and genetic characteristics of age at onset (AAO) and polarity at onset (PAO) in bipolar disorder can provide new insights into disease pathology and facilitate the development of screening tools.
To examine the genetic architecture of AAO and PAO and their association with bipolar disorder disease characteristics.
Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) and polygenic score (PGS) analyses of AAO (n = 12 977) and PAO (n = 6773) were conducted in patients with bipolar disorder from 34 cohorts and a replication sample (n = 2237). The association of onset with disease characteristics was investigated in two of these cohorts.
Earlier AAO was associated with a higher probability of psychotic symptoms, suicidality, lower educational attainment, not living together and fewer episodes. Depressive onset correlated with suicidality and manic onset correlated with delusions and manic episodes. Systematic differences in AAO between cohorts and continents of origin were observed. This was also reflected in single-nucleotide variant-based heritability estimates, with higher heritabilities for stricter onset definitions. Increased PGS for autism spectrum disorder (β = −0.34 years, s.e. = 0.08), major depression (β = −0.34 years, s.e. = 0.08), schizophrenia (β = −0.39 years, s.e. = 0.08), and educational attainment (β = −0.31 years, s.e. = 0.08) were associated with an earlier AAO. The AAO GWAS identified one significant locus, but this finding did not replicate. Neither GWAS nor PGS analyses yielded significant associations with PAO.
AAO and PAO are associated with indicators of bipolar disorder severity. Individuals with an earlier onset show an increased polygenic liability for a broad spectrum of psychiatric traits. Systematic differences in AAO across cohorts, continents and phenotype definitions introduce significant heterogeneity, affecting analyses.
Although accurate differentiation between bipolar disorder (BD) and unipolar major depressive disorder (MDD) has important prognostic and therapeutic implications, the distinction is often challenging based on clinical grounds alone. In this study, we tested whether psychiatric polygenic risk scores (PRSs) improve clinically based classification models of BD v. MDD diagnosis.
Our sample included 843 BD and 930 MDD subjects similarly genotyped and phenotyped using the same standardized interview. We performed multivariate modeling and receiver operating characteristic analysis, testing the incremental effect of PRSs on a baseline model with clinical symptoms and features known to associate with BD compared with MDD status.
We found a strong association between a BD diagnosis and PRSs drawn from BD (R2 = 3.5%, p = 4.94 × 10−12) and schizophrenia (R2 = 3.2%, p = 5.71 × 10−11) genome-wide association meta-analyses. Individuals with top decile BD PRS had a significantly increased risk for BD v. MDD compared with those in the lowest decile (odds ratio 3.39, confidence interval 2.19–5.25). PRSs discriminated BD v. MDD to a degree comparable with many individual symptoms and clinical features previously shown to associate with BD. When compared with the full composite model with all symptoms and clinical features PRSs provided modestly improved discriminatory ability (ΔC = 0.011, p = 6.48 × 10−4).
Our study demonstrates that psychiatric PRSs provide modest independent discrimination between BD and MDD cases, suggesting that PRSs could ultimately have utility in subjects at the extremes of the distribution and/or subjects for whom clinical symptoms are poorly measured or yet to manifest.
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