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Psychiatry Res. 1991 Jun;37(3):333-48.

A high risk study of young children of parents with panic disorder and agoraphobia with and without comorbid major depression.

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  • 1Pediatric Psychopharmacology Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston 02114.


Using family study methodology and psychiatric assessments by blind raters, this study tested hypotheses about patterns of familial association between anxiety and depressive disorders among high risk children of clinically referred parents. The study design contrasted five groups of children defined by the presence or absence in a parent of (1) panic disorder and agoraphobia (PDAG) without comorbid major depressive disorder (MDD) (n = 14); (2) comorbid PDAG plus MDD (PDAG + MDD) (n = 25); (3) MDD without comorbid PDAG (n = 12); (4) other psychiatric disorders (n = 23); and (5) normal comparisons (n = 47). While the PDAG and PDAG + MDD groups had similarly elevated rates of anxiety disorders and MDD, offspring of MDD parents had an elevated rate of MDD but not of anxiety disorders. Among children of parents with PDAG + MDD, the presence of an anxiety disorder did not significantly increase the risk for MDD in the same child. Thus, anxiety and MDD did not cosegregate among children of PDAG parents. These findings indicate that parental PDAG, either alone or comorbidly with MDD, increases the risk for both anxiety and depressive disorders in offspring. In the absence of PDAG, however, parental MDD does not appear to place children at risk for anxiety disorders. These findings are most consistent with the hypothesis that PDAG and PDAG + MDD share common familial etiologic factors while MDD alone is an independent disorder. More studies are needed to confirm these preliminary findings as well as to identify mediating factors that influence the transition from childhood to adult anxiety disorders.

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