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Genetic and early environmental predictors of adulthood self-reports of trauma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)613-620
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number4
Early online date2 Feb 2022
Accepted/In press2 Dec 2021
E-pub ahead of print2 Feb 2022
Published6 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: TEDS is supported by a programme grant to T.C.E. and G.B. from the UK Medical Research Council (MR/V012878/1 and previously MR/M021475/1). A.D. is part funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London. A.J.P. is supported by an ESRC studentship. M.S. and A.R.T.K. are funded by NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre studentships. J.-B.P. is supported by the Medical Research Foundation 2018 Emerging Leaders 1st Prize in Adolescent Mental Health (MRF-160-0002-ELP-PINGA). J.R.B. is funded by a Wellcome Trust Sir Henry Wellcome fellowship (grant 215917/Z/19/Z). This study represents independent research part funded by the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.


King's Authors


Background Retrospective self-reports of childhood trauma are associated with a greater risk of psychopathology in adulthood than prospective measures of trauma. Heritable reporter characteristics are anticipated to account for part of this association, whereby genetic predisposition to certain traits influences both the likelihood of self-reporting trauma and of developing psychopathology. However, previous research has not considered how gene-environment correlation influences these associations. Aims To investigate reporter characteristics associated with retrospective self-reports of childhood trauma and whether these associations are accounted for by gene-environment correlation. Method In 3963 unrelated individuals from the Twins Early Development Study, we tested whether polygenic scores for 21 psychiatric, cognitive, anthropometric and personality traits were associated with retrospectively self-reported childhood emotional and physical abuse. To assess the presence of gene-environment correlation, we investigated whether these associations remained after controlling for composite scores of environmental adversity across development. Results Retrospectively self-reported childhood trauma was associated with polygenic scores for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), body mass index (BMI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and risky behaviours. When composite scores of environmental adversity were controlled for, only associations with the polygenic scores for ASD and PTSD remained significant. Conclusions Genetic predisposition to ASD and PTSD may increase liability to experiencing or interpreting events as traumatic. Associations between genetic predisposition for risky behaviour and BMI with self-reported childhood trauma may reflect gene-environment correlation. Studies of the association between retrospectively self-reported childhood trauma and later-life outcomes should consider that genetically influenced reporter characteristics may confound associations, both directly and through gene-environment correlation.

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