Characterizing Developmental Trajectories and the Role of Neuropsychiatric Genetic Risk Variants in Early-Onset Depression

Frances Rice*, Lucy Riglin, Ajay K Thapar, Jon Heron, Richard Anney, Michael C O'Donovan, Anita Thapar

*Corresponding author for this work

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

41 Citations (Scopus)
293 Downloads (Pure)


Importance: Depression often first manifests in adolescence. Thereafter, individual trajectories vary substantially, but it is not known what shapes depression trajectories in youth. Adult studies suggest that genetic risk for schizophrenia, a psychiatric disorder with a neurodevelopmental component, may contribute to an earlier onset of depression.

Objective: To test the hypothesis that there are distinct trajectories of depressive symptoms and that genetic liability for neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorders (eg, schizophrenia, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]), as well as for major depressive disorder (MDD), contribute to early-onset depression.

Design, Setting, and Participants: The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children is an ongoing, prospective, longitudinal, population-based cohort that has been collecting data since September 6, 1990, including data on 7543 adolescents with depressive symptoms at multiple time points. The present study was conducted between November 10, 2017, and August 14, 2018.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Trajectories based on self-reported depressive symptoms dichotomized by the clinical cutpoint; MDD, schizophrenia, and ADHD polygenic risk score (PRS) were predictors.

Results: In 7543 adolescents with depression data on more than 1 assessment point between a mean (SD) age of 10.64 (0.25) years and 18.65 (0.49) years (3568 [47.3%] male; 3975 [52.7%] female), 3 trajectory classes were identified: persistently low (73.7%), later-adolescence onset (17.3%), and early-adolescence onset (9.0%). The later-adolescence-onset class was associated with MDD genetic risk only (MDD PRS: odds ratio [OR], 1.27; 95% CI, 1.09-1.48; P = .003). The early-adolescence-onset class was also associated with MDD genetic risk (MDD PRS: OR, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.06-1.46; P = .007) but additionally with genetic risk for neurodevelopmental disorders (schizophrenia PRS: OR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.04-1.43; P = .01; ADHD PRS: OR, 1.32; 95% CI, 1.13-1.54; P < .001) and childhood ADHD (χ21 = 6.837; P = .009) and neurodevelopmental traits (pragmatic language difficulties: OR, 1.31; P = .004; social communication difficulties: OR, 0.68; P < .001).

Conclusions and Relevance: The findings of this study appear to demonstrate evidence of distinct depressive trajectories, primarily distinguished by age at onset. The more typical depression trajectory with onset of clinically significant symptoms at age 16 years was associated with MDD genetic risk. The less-common depression trajectory, with a very early onset, was particularly associated with ADHD and schizophrenia genetic risk and, phenotypically, with childhood ADHD and neurodevelopmental traits. Findings are consistent with emerging evidence for a neurodevelopmental component in some cases of depression and suggest that the presence of this component may be more likely when the onset of depression is very early.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-313
Number of pages8
JournalJAMA Psychiatry
Issue number3
Early online date14 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019

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