Association of Genetic Liability to Psychotic Experiences With Neuropsychotic Disorders and Traits

Sophie E Legge, Hannah Jones, Kimberley Kendall, Antonio Pardiñas, Georgina Menzies, Matthew Bracher-Smith, Valentina Escott-Price, Elliott Rees, Katrina AS Davis, Mathew Hotopf, Jeanne E Savage, Danielle Posthuma, Peter Holmans, George Kirov, Michael J Owen, Michael C. O’Donovan, Stan Zammit, James T Walters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)
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Psychotic experiences, such as hallucinations and delusions, are reported by approximately 5% to 10% of the general population, although only a small proportion develop psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Studying the genetic causes of psychotic experiences in the general population, and its association with the genetic causes of other disorders, may increase the understanding of their pathologic significance.

To determine whether genetic liability to psychotic experiences is shared with schizophrenia and/or other neuropsychiatric disorders and traits and to identify genetic loci associated with psychotic experiences.

Design, Setting and Participants
Analyses of genetic correlation, polygenic risk scores, and copy number variation were performed using data from participants in the UK Biobank from April 1, 2018, to March 20, 2019, to assess whether genetic liability to psychotic experiences is shared with schizophrenia and/or other neuropsychiatric disorders and traits. Genome-wide association studies of psychotic experience phenotypes were conducted to identify novel genetic loci. Participants in the final analyses after exclusions included 6123 individuals reporting any psychotic experience, 2143 individuals reporting distressing psychotic experiences, and 3337 individuals reporting multiple occurrences of psychotic experiences. A total of 121 843 individuals who did not report a psychotic experience formed the comparator group. Individuals with a psychotic disorder were excluded from all analyses.

Main Outcomes and Measures
Genetic associations with psychotic experience phenotypes.

The study included a total of 127 966 participants (56.0% women and 44.0% men; mean [SD] age, 64.0 [7.6] years). Psychotic experiences were genetically correlated with major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Analyses of polygenic risk scores identified associations between psychotic experiences and genetic liability for major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Individuals reporting psychotic experiences had an increased burden of copy number variations previously associated with schizophrenia (odds ratio [OR], 2.04; 95% CI, 1.39-2.98; P = 2.49 × 10−4) and neurodevelopmental disorders more widely (OR, 1.75; 95% CI, 1.24-2.48; P = 1.41 × 10−3). Genome-wide association studies identified 4 significantly associated loci, including a locus in Ankyrin-3 (ANK3 [GenBank NM_020987]) (OR, 1.16; 95% CI, 1.10-1.23; P = 3.06 × 10−8) with any psychotic experience, and a locus in cannabinoid receptor 2 gene (CNR2 [GenBank NM_001841]) (OR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.56-0.78; P = 3.78 × 10−8) with distressing psychotic experiences. The genome-wide association study of any psychotic experience had a low single-nucleotide polymorphism–based heritability estimate (h2 = 1.71%; 95% CI, 1.02%-2.40%).

Conclusions and Relevance
A large genetic association study of psychotic experiences from the population-based UK Biobank sample found support for a shared genetic liability between psychotic experiences and schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1256-1265
Number of pages10
JournalJAMA Psychiatry
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sept 2019

Structured keywords



  • GWAS
  • UK Biobank
  • Psychotic experiences


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