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Genetic correlations between pain phenotypes and depression and neuroticism

By Weihua Meng, Mark J Adams, Ian J Deary, Colin N.A. Palmer, Andrew M McIntosh, Blair H Smith

Posted 06 Jul 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/362574 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41431-019-0530-2)

Correlations between pain phenotypes and psychiatric traits such as depression and the personality trait of neuroticism are not fully understood. The purpose of this study was to identify whether eight pain phenotypes, depressive symptoms, major depressive disorders, and neuroticism are correlated for genetic reasons. Eight pain phenotypes were defined by a specific pain-related question in the UK Biobank questionnaire. First we generated genome-wide association summary statistics on each pain phenotype, and estimated the common SNP-based heritability of each trait using GCTA. We then estimated the genetic correlation of each pain phenotype with depressive symptoms, major depressive disorders and neuroticism using the the cross-trait linkage disequilibrium score regression (LDSC) method integrated in the LD Hub. Third, we used the LDSC software to calculate genetic correlations among pain phenotypes. All pain phenotypes were heritable, with pain all over the body showing the highest heritability (h2=0.31, standard error=0.072). All pain phenotypes, except hip pain and knee pain, had significant and positive genetic correlations with depressive symptoms, major depressive disorders and neuroticism. The largest genetic correlations occurred between neuroticism and stomach or abdominal pain (rg=0.70, P=2.4 x 10-9). In contrast, hip pain and knee pain showed weaker evidence of shared genetic architecture with these negative emotional traits. In addition, many pain phenotypes had positive and significant genetic correlations with each other indicating shared genetic mechanisms. Pain at a variety of body sites is heritable and genetically correlated with depression and neuroticism. This suggests that pain, neuroticism and depression share partially overlapping genetic risk factors.

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