Taylor MJ, Martin J, Lu Y, Brikell I, Lundström S, Larsson H, Lichtenstein P
JAMA Psychiatry 76 (3) 280-289 [2019-03-01; online 2018-12-20]
Psychiatric traits associated with categorically defined psychiatric disorders are heritable and present to varying degrees in the general population. It is commonly assumed that diagnoses represent the extreme end of continuously distributed traits in the population, but this assumption has yet to be robustly tested for many psychiatric phenotypes. To assess whether genetic risk factors associated with psychiatric disorders are also associated with continuous variation in milder population traits. This study combined a novel twin analytic approach with polygenic risk score (PRS) analyses in a large population-based twin sample. Phenotypic and genetic data were available from the Child and Adolescent Twin Study in Sweden. Inpatient data were available for January 1, 1987, to December 31, 2014, and outpatient data for January 1, 2001, to December 31, 2013. The last day of follow-up was December 31, 2014. Data analysis was performed from January 1, 2017, to September 30, 2017. Questionnaires that assessed traits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning difficulties, tic disorders (TDs), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, major depressive disorder (MDD), mania, and psychotic experiences were administered to a large Swedish twin sample. Individuals with clinical psychiatric diagnoses were identified using the Swedish National Patient Register. Joint categorical/continuous twin modeling was used to estimate genetic correlations between psychiatric diagnoses and continuous traits. The PRSs for psychiatric disorders were calculated based on independent discovery genetic data. The association between PRSs for each disorder and associated continuous traits was tested. Phenotype data were available for 13 923 twin pairs (35.1% opposite sex and 31.7% same-sex females) at 9 years of age, 5165 pairs (36.9% opposite sex and 34.0% same-sex females) at 15 years of age, and 4273 pairs (36.5% opposite sex and 34.4% same-sex females) at 18 years of age. Genetic data were available for 13 412 individuals (50.2% females). Twin genetic correlations between numerous psychiatric diagnoses and corresponding traits ranged from 0.31 to 0.69. Disorder PRSs were associated with related population traits for ASD (β [SE] = 0.04 [0.01] at 9 years of age), ADHD (β [SE] = 0.27 [0.03] at 9 years of age), TDs (β [SE] = 0.02 [0.004] at 9 years of age), OCD (β [SE] = 0.13 [0.05] at 18 years of age), anxiety (β [SE] = 0.18 [0.08] at 9 years of age; β [SE] = 0.07 [0.02] at 15 years of age; and β [SE] = 0.40 [0.17] at 18 years of age), MDD (β [SE] = 0.10 [0.03] at 9 years of age; β [SE] = 0.11 [0.02] at 15 years of age; and β [SE] = 0.41 [0.10] at 18 years of age), and schizophrenia (β [SE] = 0.02 [0.01] at 18 years of age). Polygenic risk scores for depressive symptoms were associated with MDD diagnoses (odds ratio, 1.16; 95% CI, 1.02-1.32). These results suggest that genetic factors associated with psychiatric disorders are also associated with milder variation in characteristic traits throughout the general population for many psychiatric phenotypes. This study suggests that many psychiatric disorders are likely to be continuous phenotypes rather than the categorical entities currently defined in diagnostic manuals, which has strong implications for genetic research in particular.