Despite many attempts to understand the genetic architecture of depression, little progress has been made. The majority of these studies, however, have been carried out in adults and do not account for the potential influence of development.

The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) is a longitudinal pregnancy cohort which recruited participants between April 1991 and December 1992. Analyses were replicated in two independent European cohorts. Genome-wide complex trait analysis (GCTA) software was used to investigate SNP-heritability (h2 SNP) of depression across adolescence, the role of puberty was investigated by stratifying these estimates according to pubertal onset. Genome-wide association studies were performed to identify genetic variants associated with depression at different stages of development.

Heritability was estimated between the ages of 11 and 18 with sample sizes ranging from 3289 to 5480. Heritability was low with an apparent peak was found at age 13 (h2 = 0.17, p = 0.006). Confidence intervals around these estimates suggest an upper-bound to h2 SNP of around 30%. A variant located on chromosome 7 was found to be associated with depressive symptoms at age 13 in ALSPAC (rs138191010: β = 0.142, p = 2.51 × 10−8), although this was not replicated.

Although power is a potential limitation, the observed patterns provide interesting hypotheses surrounding the heritability of depression at different developmental stages. We found substantially lower estimates for depressive symptoms at age 11 (0.07) compared to those previously estimated in adults (0.21). We also found a peak in heritability at age 13. These findings suggest environmental factors are likely to be more important in the aetiology of depressive symptoms in early adolescence than in adulthood.
Original languageEnglish
Article number321
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2017


  • Adolescent depression
  • Heritability
  • GWAS

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