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Genetic and environmental determinants of stressful life events and their overlap with depression and neuroticism

By Toni-Kim Clarke, Yanni Zeng, Lauren Navrady, Charley Xia, Chris Haley, Archie Campbell, Pau Navarro, Carmen Amador, Mark J Adams, David M Howard, Aleix Arnau Soler, Caroline Hayward, Pippa A. Thomson, Blair H Smith, Sandosh Padmanabhan, Lynne J. Hocking, Lynsey S. Hall, David J. Porteous, Ian J Deary, Andrew M McIntosh

Posted 31 Oct 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/211896 (published DOI: 10.12688/wellcomeopenres.13893.1)

Background: Stressful life events (SLEs) and neuroticism are risk factors for major depressive disorder (MDD). However, SLEs and neuroticism are heritable traits that are correlated with genetic risk for MDD. In the current study, we sought to investigate the genetic and environmental contributions to SLEs in a large family-based sample, and quantify any genetic overlap with MDD and neuroticism. Methods: A subset of Generation Scotland: the Scottish Family Health Study, consisting of 9618 individuals comprise the present study. We estimated the heritability of SLEs using pedigree-based and molecular genetic data. The environment was assessed by modelling familial, couple and sibling components. Using polygenic risk scores (PRS) and LD score regression we analysed the genetic overlap between MDD, neuroticism and SLEs. Results: Past 6-month life events were positively correlated with lifetime MDD status (β=0.21, r2=1.1%, p=2.5 x 10-25) and neuroticism (β=0.13, r2=1.9%, p=1.04 x 10-37). Common SNPs explained 8% of the variance in personal life events (those directly affecting the individual) (S.E.=0.03, p=9 x 10-4). A significant effect of couple environment accounted for 13% (S.E.=0.03, p=0.016) of variation in SLEs. PRS analyses found that individuals with higher PRS for MDD reported more SLEs (β=0.05, r2=0.3%, p=3 x 10-5). LD score regression demonstrated genetic correlations between MDD and both SLEs (rG=0.33, S.E.=0.08 ) and neuroticism (rG=0.15, S.E.=0.07). Conclusions: These findings suggest that SLEs are partially heritable and this heritability is shared with risk for MDD and neuroticism. Further work should determine the causal direction and source of these associations.

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