Genetic Heterogeneity in Depressive Symptoms Following the Death of a Spouse: Polygenic Score Analysis of the U.S. Health and Retirement Study

TitleGenetic Heterogeneity in Depressive Symptoms Following the Death of a Spouse: Polygenic Score Analysis of the U.S. Health and Retirement Study
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsDomingue, BW, Liu, H, Okbay, A, Belsky, DW
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Volume174
Issue10
Pagination963-970
Date Published10/2017
ISSN Number0002-953X
KeywordsBereavement, Depressive symptoms, Genetics
Abstract

Objective:
Experience of stressful life events is associated with risk of depression. Yet many exposed individuals do not become depressed. A controversial hypothesis is that genetic factors influence vulnerability to depression following stress. This hypothesis is often tested with a “diathesis-stress” model, in which genes confer excess vulnerability. The authors tested an alternative formulation of this model: genes may buffer against depressogenic effects of life stress.

Method:
The hypothesized genetic buffer was measured using a polygenic score derived from a published genome-wide association study of subjective well-being. The authors tested whether married older adults who had higher polygenic scores were less vulnerable to depressive symptoms following the death of their spouse compared with age-matched peers who had also lost their spouse and who had lower polygenic scores. Data were analyzed from 8,588 non-Hispanic white adults in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a population-representative longitudinal study of older adults in the United States.

Results:
HRS adults with higher well-being polygenic scores experienced fewer depressive symptoms during follow-up. Those who survived the death of their spouses (N=1,647) experienced a sharp increase in depressive symptoms following the death and returned toward baseline over the following 2 years. Having a higher well-being polygenic score buffered against increased depressive symptoms following a spouse’s death.

Conclusions:
The effects were small, and the clinical relevance is uncertain, although polygenic score analyses may provide clues to behavioral pathways that can serve as therapeutic targets. Future studies of gene-environment interplay in depression may benefit from focus on genetics discovered for putative protective factors.

URLhttp://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16111209
DOI10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16111209
Short TitleAJP
Citation Key8975
PubMed ID28335623
PubMed Central IDPMC5610918