The death(s) of close friends and family moderate genetic influences on symptoms of major depressive disorder in adolescents

S. Gheyara, K. L. Klump, M. McGue, W. G. Iacono, S. A. Burt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background Prior work has suggested that genetic influences on major depressive disorder (MDD) may be activated by the experience of negative life events. However, it is unclear whether these results persist when controlling for the possibility of confounding active gene-environment correlations (rGE).Method We examined a sample of 1230 adopted and biological siblings between the ages of 10 and 20 years from the Sibling Interaction and Behavior Study. MDD was measured via a lifetime DSM-IV symptom count. Number of deaths experienced served as our environmental risk experience. Because this variable is largely independent of the individual's choices/behaviors, we were able to examine gene-environment interactions while circumventing possible rGE confounds.Results Biometric analyses revealed pronounced linear increases in the magnitude of genetic influences on symptoms of MDD with the number of deaths experienced, such that genetic influences were estimated to be near-zero for those who had experienced no deaths but were quite large in those who had experienced two or more deaths (i.e. accounting for roughly two-thirds of the phenotypic variance). By contrast, shared and non-shared environmental influences on symptoms of MDD were not meaningfully moderated by the number of deaths experienced.Conclusions Such results constructively replicate prior findings of genetic moderation of depressive symptoms by negative life events, thereby suggesting that this effect is not a function of active rGE confounds. Our findings are thus consistent with the notion that exposure to specific negative life events may serve to activate genetic risk for depression during adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)721-729
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Adoption studies
  • death
  • depression
  • gene-environment interactions
  • genetic influences

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