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Identifying Potential Causal Risk Factors for Self-Harm: A Polygenic Risk Scoring and Mendelian Randomisation Approach

By Kai Xiang Lim, Frühling Rijsdijk, Saskia Hagenaars, Adam Socrates, Shing Wan Choi, Jonathan R. I. Coleman, Kylie P Glanville, Cathryn M. Lewis, JB. Pingault

Posted 21 Jun 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/673053 (published DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003137)

Background: Multiple individual vulnerabilities and traits are phenotypically associated with suicidal and non-suicidal self-harm. However, associations between these risk factors and self-harm are subject to confounding. We implemented genetically informed methods to better identify individual risk factors for self-harm. Methods: Using genotype data and online Mental Health Questionnaire responses in the UK Biobank sample (N = 125,925), polygenic risk scores (PRS) were generated to index 24 plausible individual risk factors for self-harm in the following domains: mental health vulnerabilities, substance use phenotypes, cognitive traits, personality traits and physical traits. PRS were entered as predictors in binomial regression models to predict self-harm. Multinomial regressions were used to model suicidal and non-suicidal self-harm. To further probe the causal nature of these relationships, two-sample Mendelian Randomisation (MR) analyses were conducted for significant risk factors identified in PRS analyses. Outcomes: Self-harm was predicted by PRS indexing six individual risk factors, which are major depressive disorder (MDD), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcohol dependence disorder (ALC) and lifetime cannabis use. Effect sizes ranged from β = 0.044 (95% CI: 0.016 to 0.152) for PRS for lifetime cannabis use, to β = 0.179 (95% CI: 0.152 to 0.207) for PRS for MDD. No systematic distinctions emerged between suicidal and non-suicidal self-harm. In follow-up MR analyses, MDD, ADHD and schizophrenia emerged as plausible causal risk factors for self-harm. Interpretation: Among a range of potential risk factors leading to self-harm, core predictors were found among psychiatric disorders. In addition to MDD, liabilities for schizophrenia and ADHD increased the risk for self-harm. Detection and treatment of core symptoms of these conditions, such as psychotic or impulsivity symptoms, may benefit self-harming patients.

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