Genetic liability to schizophrenia is associated with exposure to traumatic events in childhood

Hannah M Sallis*, Jazz Croft, Alexandra Havdahl, Hannah J Jones, Erin C Dunn, George Davey Smith, Stanley Zammit, Marcus R Munafò

*Corresponding author for this work

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

16 Citations (Scopus)
142 Downloads (Pure)


Background: There is a wealth of literature on the observed association between childhood trauma and psychotic illness. However, the relationship between childhood trauma and psychosis is complex and could be explained, in part, by gene-environment correlation.

Methods: The association between schizophrenia polygenic scores (PGS) and experiencing childhood trauma was investigated using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). Schizophrenia PGS were derived in each cohort for children, mothers, and fathers where genetic data were available. Measures of trauma exposure were derived based on data collected throughout childhood and adolescence (0-17 years; ALSPAC) and at age 8 years (MoBa).

Results: Within ALSPAC, we found a positive association between schizophrenia PGS and exposure to trauma across childhood and adolescence; effect sizes were consistent for both child or maternal PGS. We found evidence of an association between the schizophrenia PGS and the majority of trauma subtypes investigated, with the exception of bullying. These results were comparable in MoBa. Within ALSPAC, genetic liability to a range of additional psychiatric traits was also associated with a greater trauma exposure.

Conclusions: Results from two international birth cohorts indicate that genetic liability for a range of psychiatric traits is associated with experiencing childhood trauma. GWAS of psychiatric phenotypes may also reflect risk factors for these phenotypes. Our findings also suggest that youth at higher genetic risk might require greater resources/support to ensure they grow-up in a healthy environment.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Medicine
Early online date1 Apr 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Apr 2020

Structured keywords

  • Physical and Mental Health


  • gene-environment correlation
  • childhood trauma
  • psychosis
  • MoBa


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