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Retrospective self-reports of childhood trauma are associated with a greater risk of psychopathology in adulthood than prospective measures of trauma. Heritable reporter characteristics are anticipated to account for part of this association, whereby genetic predisposition to certain traits influences both the likelihood of self-reporting trauma and of developing psychopathology. However, previous research has not considered how gene–environment correlation influences these associations.
To investigate reporter characteristics associated with retrospective self-reports of childhood trauma and whether these associations are accounted for by gene–environment correlation.
In 3963 unrelated individuals from the Twins Early Development Study, we tested whether polygenic scores for 21 psychiatric, cognitive, anthropometric and personality traits were associated with retrospectively self-reported childhood emotional and physical abuse. To assess the presence of gene–environment correlation, we investigated whether these associations remained after controlling for composite scores of environmental adversity across development.
Retrospectively self-reported childhood trauma was associated with polygenic scores for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), body mass index (BMI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and risky behaviours. When composite scores of environmental adversity were controlled for, only associations with the polygenic scores for ASD and PTSD remained significant.
Genetic predisposition to ASD and PTSD may increase liability to experiencing or interpreting events as traumatic. Associations between genetic predisposition for risky behaviour and BMI with self-reported childhood trauma may reflect gene–environment correlation. Studies of the association between retrospectively self-reported childhood trauma and later-life outcomes should consider that genetically influenced reporter characteristics may confound associations, both directly and through gene–environment correlation.
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.
Anxiety and depressive disorders can be chronic and disabling. Although there are effective treatments, only a fraction of those impaired receive treatment. Predictors of treatment-seeking and treatment receipt could be informative for initiatives aiming to tackle the burden of untreated anxiety and depression.
To investigate sociodemographic characteristics associated with treatment-seeking and treatment receipt.
Two binary retrospective reports of lifetime treatment-seeking (n = 44 810) and treatment receipt (n = 37 346) were regressed on sociodemographic factors (age, gender, UK ethnic minority background, educational attainment, household income, neighbourhood deprivation and social isolation) and alternative coping strategies (self-medication with alcohol/drugs and self-help) in UK Biobank participants with lifetime generalised anxiety or major depressive disorder. Analyses were also stratified by gender.
Treatment access was more likely in those who reported use of self-help strategies, with university-level education and those from less economically advantaged circumstances (household income <£30 000 and greater neighbourhood deprivation). Treatment access was less likely in those who were male, from a UK ethnic minority background and with high household incomes (>£100 000). Men who self-medicated and/or had a vocational qualification were also less likely to seek treatment.
This work on retrospective reports of treatment-seeking and treatment receipt at any time of life replicates known associations with treatment-seeking and treatment receipt during time of treatment need. More work is required to understand whether improving rates of treatment-seeking improves prognostic outcomes for individuals with anxiety or depression.
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.
People with bipolar disorder (BPD) are more likely to die prematurely, which is partly attributed to comorbid cardiometabolic traits. Previous studies report cardiometabolic abnormalities in BPD, but their shared aetiology remains poorly understood. This study examined the phenotypic associations and shared genetic aetiology between BPD and various cardiometabolic traits.
In a subset of the UK Biobank sample (N = 61 508) we investigated phenotypic associations between BPD (ncases = 4186) and cardiometabolic traits, represented by biomarkers, anthropometric traits and cardiometabolic diseases. To determine shared genetic aetiology in European ancestry, polygenic risk scores (PRS) and genetic correlations were calculated between BPD and cardiometabolic traits.
Several traits were significantly associated with increased risk for BPD, namely low total cholesterol, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high triglycerides, high glycated haemoglobin, low systolic blood pressure, high body mass index, high waist-to-hip ratio; and stroke, coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes diagnosis. BPD was associated with higher polygenic risk for triglycerides, waist-to-hip ratio, coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes. Shared genetic aetiology persisted for coronary artery disease, when correcting PRS associations for cardiometabolic base phenotypes. Associations were not replicated using genetic correlations.
This large study identified increased phenotypic cardiometabolic abnormalities in BPD participants. It is found that the comorbidity of coronary artery disease may be based on shared genetic aetiology. These results motivate hypothesis-driven research to consider individual cardiometabolic traits rather than a composite metabolic syndrome when attempting to disentangle driving mechanisms of cardiometabolic abnormalities in BPD.
The UK Biobank contains data with varying degrees of reliability and completeness for assessing depression. A third of participants completed a Mental Health Questionnaire (MHQ) containing the gold-standard Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) criteria for assessing mental health disorders.
To investigate whether multiple observations of depression from sources other than the MHQ can enhance the validity of major depressive disorder (MDD).
In participants who did not complete the MHQ, we calculated the number of other depression measures endorsed, for example from hospital episode statistics and interview data. We compared cases defined this way with CIDI-defined cases for several estimates: the variance explained by polygenic risk scores (PRS), area under the curve attributable to PRS, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)-based heritability and genetic correlations with summary statistics from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium MDD genome-wide association study.
The strength of the genetic contribution increased with the number of measures endorsed. For example, SNP-based heritability increased from 7% in participants who endorsed only one measure of depression, to 21% in those who endorsed four or five measures of depression. The strength of the genetic contribution to cases defined by at least two measures approximated that for CIDI-defined cases. Most genetic correlations between UK Biobank and the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium MDD study exceeded 0.7, but there was variability between pairwise comparisons.
Multiple measures of depression can serve as a reliable approximation for case status where the CIDI measure is not available, indicating sample size can be optimised using the entire suite of UK Biobank data.
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.
UK Biobank is a well-characterised cohort of over 500 000 participants including genetics, environmental data and imaging. An online mental health questionnaire was designed for UK Biobank participants to expand its potential.
Describe the development, implementation and results of this questionnaire.
An expert working group designed the questionnaire, using established measures where possible, and consulting a patient group. Operational criteria were agreed for defining likely disorder and risk states, including lifetime depression, mania/hypomania, generalised anxiety disorder, unusual experiences and self-harm, and current post-traumatic stress and hazardous/harmful alcohol use.
A total of 157 366 completed online questionnaires were available by August 2017. Participants were aged 45–82 (53% were ≥65 years) and 57% women. Comparison of self-reported diagnosed mental disorder with a contemporary study shows a similar prevalence, despite respondents being of higher average socioeconomic status. Lifetime depression was a common finding, with 24% (37 434) of participants meeting criteria and current hazardous/harmful alcohol use criteria were met by 21% (32 602), whereas other criteria were met by less than 8% of the participants. There was extensive comorbidity among the syndromes. Mental disorders were associated with a high neuroticism score, adverse life events and long-term illness; addiction and bipolar affective disorder in particular were associated with measures of deprivation.
The UK Biobank questionnaire represents a very large mental health survey in itself, and the results presented here show high face validity, although caution is needed because of selection bias. Built into UK Biobank, these data intersect with other health data to offer unparalleled potential for crosscutting biomedical research involving mental health.
UK Biobank is a well-characterised cohort of over 500 000 participants that offers unique opportunities to investigate multiple diseases and risk factors.
An online mental health questionnaire completed by UK Biobank participants was expected to expand the potential for research into mental disorders.
An expert working group designed the questionnaire, using established measures where possible, and consulting with a patient group regarding acceptability. Case definitions were defined using operational criteria for lifetime depression, mania, anxiety disorder, psychotic-like experiences and self-harm, as well as current post-traumatic stress and alcohol use disorders.
157 366 completed online questionnaires were available by August 2017. Comparison of self-reported diagnosed mental disorder with a contemporary study shows a similar prevalence, despite respondents being of higher average socioeconomic status than the general population across a range of indicators. Thirty-five per cent (55 750) of participants had at least one defined syndrome, of which lifetime depression was the most common at 24% (37 434). There was extensive comorbidity among the syndromes. Mental disorders were associated with high neuroticism score, adverse life events and long-term illness; addiction and bipolar affective disorder in particular were associated with measures of deprivation.
The questionnaire represents a very large mental health survey in itself, and the results presented here show high face validity, although caution is needed owing to selection bias. Built into UK Biobank, these data intersect with other health data to offer unparalleled potential for crosscutting biomedical research involving mental health.
Declaration of interest
G.B. received grants from the National Institute for Health Research during the study; and support from Illumina Ltd. and the European Commission outside the submitted work. B.C. received grants from the Scottish Executive Chief Scientist Office and from The Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation during the study. C.S. received grants from the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust during the study, and is the Chief Scientist for UK Biobank. M.H. received grants from the Innovative Medicines Initiative via the RADAR-CNS programme and personal fees as an expert witness outside the submitted work.
Anxiety disorders are common, and cognitive–behavioural therapy (CBT) is a first-line treatment. Candidate gene studies have suggested a genetic basis to treatment response, but findings have been inconsistent.
To perform the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) of psychological treatment response in children with anxiety disorders (n = 980).
Presence and severity of anxiety was assessed using semi-structured interview at baseline, on completion of treatment (post-treatment), and 3 to 12 months after treatment completion (follow-up). DNA was genotyped using the Illumina Human Core Exome-12v1.0 array. Linear mixed models were used to test associations between genetic variants and response (change in symptom severity) immediately post-treatment and at 6-month follow-up.
No variants passed a genome-wide significance threshold (P=5×10–8) in either analysis. Four variants met criteria for suggestive significance (P<5×10–6) in association with response post-treatment, and three variants in the 6-month follow-up analysis.
This is the first genome-wide therapygenetic study. It suggests no common variants of very high effect underlie response to CBT. Future investigations should maximise power to detect single-variant and polygenic effects by using larger, more homogeneous cohorts.
We previously reported an association between 5HTTLPR genotype and
outcome following cognitive–behavioural therapy (CBT) in child anxiety
(Cohort 1). Children homozygous for the low-expression short-allele
showed more positive outcomes. Other similar studies have produced mixed
results, with most reporting no association between genotype and CBT
To replicate the association between 5HTTLPR and CBT outcome in child
anxiety from the Genes for Treatment study (GxT Cohort 2,
n = 829).
Logistic and linear mixed effects models were used to examine the
relationship between 5HTTLPR and CBT outcomes. Mega-analyses using both
cohorts were performed.
There was no significant effect of 5HTTLPR on CBT outcomes in Cohort 2.
Mega-analyses identified a significant association between 5HTTLPR and
remission from all anxiety disorders at follow-up (odds ratio 0.45,
P = 0.014), but not primary anxiety disorder
The association between 5HTTLPR genotype and CBT outcome did not
replicate. Short-allele homozygotes showed more positive treatment
outcomes, but with small, non-significant effects. Future studies would
benefit from utilising whole genome approaches and large, homogenous
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