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Genetic predisposition to psychiatric disorders and risk of COVID-19

By Wenwen Chen, Yu Zeng, Chen Suo, Huazhen Yang, Yilong Chen, Can Hou, Yao Hu, Zhiye Ying, Yajing Sun, Yuanyuan Qu, Donghao Lu, Fang Fang, Unnur A Valdimarsdóttir, Huan Song

Posted 25 Feb 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.02.23.21251866

BackgroundPre-pandemic psychiatric disorders have been associated with an increased risk of COVID-19. However, the underlying mechanisms remain unknown, e.g. to what extent genetic predisposition to psychiatric disorders contributes to the observed association. MethodsThe analytic sample consisted of white British participants of UK Biobank registered in England, with available genetic data, and alive on Jan 31, 2020 (i.e., the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK) (n=346,554). We assessed individuals genetic predisposition to different psychiatric disorders, including substance misuse, depression, anxiety, and psychotic disorder, using polygenic risk score (PRS). Diagnoses of psychiatric disorders were identified through the UK Biobank hospital inpatient data. We performed a GWAS analysis for each psychiatric disorder in a randomly selected half of the study population who were free of COVID-19 (i.e., the base dataset). For the other half (i.e., the target dataset), PRS was calculated for each psychiatric disorder using the discovered genetic variants from the base dataset. We then examined the association between PRS of each psychiatric disorder and risk of COVID-19, or severe COVID-19 (i.e., hospitalization and death), using logistic regression models. The ascertainment of COVID-19 was through the Public Health England dataset, the UK Biobank hospital inpatient data and death registers, updated until July 26, 2020. For validation, we repeated the PRS analyses based on publicly available GWAS summary statistics. Results155,988 participants (including 1,451 COVID-19 cases), with a mean age of 68.50 years at COVID-19 outbreak, were included for PRS analysis. Higher genetic liability forwards psychiatric disorders was associated with increased risk of both any COVID-19 and severe COVID-19, especially genetic risk for substance misuse and depression. The adjusted odds ratios (ORs) for any COVID-19 were 1.15 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.02-1.31) and 1.26 (1.11-1.42) among individuals with a high genetic risk (above the upper tertile of PRS) for substance misuse and depression, respectively, compared with individuals with a low genetic risk (below the lower tertile). Largely similar ORs were noted for severe COVID-19 and similar albeit slightly lower estimates using PRSs generated from GWAS summary statistics from independent samples. ConclusionIn the UK Biobank, genetic predisposition to psychiatric disorders was associated with an increased risk of COVID-19, including severe course of the disease. These findings suggest the potential role of genetic factors in the observed phenotypic association between psychiatric disorders and COVID-19, underscoring the need of increased medical surveillance of for this vulnerable population during the pandemic.

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