APRIL 16, 2020
Summary: Children who experience emotional, mental health, and social problems are more likely to have higher levels of genetic vulnerability for depression as adults. Researchers also identified a higher genetic vulnerability for insomnia, body mass index, and neuroticism. 50% of children with disorders such as ADHD continue to experience mental health problems as they enter adulthood.
Source: University of Queensland
The results indicate there are shared genetic factors that affect a range of psychiatric and related traits across a person’s lifespan. The image is in the public domain.
Emotional, social and psychiatric problems in children and adolescents have been linked to higher levels of genetic vulnerability for adult depression.
University of Queensland scientists made the finding while analysing the genetic data of more than 42,000 children and adolescents from seven cohorts across Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and UK.
Professor Christel Middeldorp said researchers have also found a link with a higher genetic vulnerability for insomnia, neuroticism and body mass index.
“By contrast, study participants with higher genetic scores for educational attainment and emotional wellbeing were found to have reduced childhood problems,” Professor Middeldorp said.
“We calculated a person’s level of genetic vulnerability by adding up the number of risk genes they had for a specific disorder or trait, and then made adjustments based on the level of importance of each gene.
“We found the relationship was mostly similar across ages.”
The results indicate there are shared genetic factors that affect a range of psychiatric and related traits across a person’s lifespan.
Professor Christel Middeldorp said around 50 percent of children and adolescents with psychiatric problems, such as attention deficit hyper-activity disorder (ADHD), continue to experience mental disorders as adults, and are at risk of disengaging with their school community among other social and emotional problems.
“Our findings are important as they suggest this continuity between childhood and adult traits is partly explained by genetic risk,” Professor Christel Middeldorp said.
“Individuals at risk of being affected should be the focus of attention and targeted treatment.
“Although genetic vulnerability is not accurate enough at this stage to make individual predictions about how a person’s symptoms will develop over time, it may become so in the future, in combination with other risk factors.
“And, this may support precision medicine by providing targeted treatments to children at the highest risk of persistent emotional and social problems.”
Original Research: Open access
“Genetic Associations Between Childhood Psychopathology and Adult Depression and Associated Traits in 42 998 Individuals : A Meta-Analysis”. by Christel Middeldorp et al.
JAMA Psychiatry doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.0527.
Genetic Associations Between Childhood Psychopathology and Adult Depression and Associated Traits in 42 998 Individuals: A Meta-Analysis
Adult mood disorders are often preceded by behavioral and emotional problems in childhood. It is yet unclear what explains the associations between childhood psychopathology and adult traits.
To investigate whether genetic risk for adult mood disorders and associated traits is associated with childhood disorders.
Design, Setting, and Participants
This meta-analysis examined data from 7 ongoing longitudinal birth and childhood cohorts from the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Starting points of data collection ranged from July 1985 to April 2002. Participants were repeatedly assessed for childhood psychopathology from ages 6 to 17 years. Data analysis occurred from September 2017 to May 2019.
Individual polygenic scores (PGS) were constructed in children based on genome-wide association studies of adult major depression, bipolar disorder, subjective well-being, neuroticism, insomnia, educational attainment, and body mass index (BMI).
Main Outcomes and Measures
Regression meta-analyses were used to test associations between PGS and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms and internalizing and social problems measured repeatedly across childhood and adolescence and whether these associations depended on childhood phenotype, age, and rater.
The sample included 42 998 participants aged 6 to 17 years. Male participants varied from 43.0% (1040 of 2417 participants) to 53.1% (2434 of 4583 participants) by age and across all cohorts. The PGS of adult major depression, neuroticism, BMI, and insomnia were positively associated with childhood psychopathology (β estimate range, 0.023-0.042 [95% CI, 0.017–0.049]), while associations with PGS of subjective well-being and educational attainment were negative (β, −0.026 to −0.046 [95% CI, −0.020 to −0.057]). There was no moderation of age, type of childhood phenotype, or rater with the associations. The exceptions were stronger associations between educational attainment PGS and ADHD compared with internalizing problems (Δβ, 0.0561 [Δ95% CI, 0.0318-0.0804]; ΔSE, 0.0124) and social problems (Δβ, 0.0528 [Δ95% CI, 0.0282-0.0775]; ΔSE, 0.0126), and between BMI PGS and ADHD and social problems (Δβ, −0.0001 [Δ95% CI, −0.0102 to 0.0100]; ΔSE, 0.0052), compared with internalizing problems (Δβ, −0.0310 [Δ95% CI, −0.0456 to −0.0164]; ΔSE, 0.0074). Furthermore, the association between educational attainment PGS and ADHD increased with age (Δβ, −0.0032 [Δ 95% CI, −0.0048 to −0.0017]; ΔSE, 0.0008).
Conclusions and Relevance
Results from this study suggest the existence of a set of genetic factors influencing a range of traits across the life span with stable associations present throughout childhood. Knowledge of underlying mechanisms may affect treatment and long-term outcomes of individuals with psychopathology.
About this mental health research article
University of Queensland
Angie Trivisonno – University of Queensland