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Psychol Med. 2015 Jun;45(8):1709-20. doi: 10.1017/S0033291714002839. Epub 2014 Dec 9.

Polygenic risk, stressful life events and depressive symptoms in older adults: a polygenic score analysis.

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Department of Mental Health,Bloomberg School of Public Health,Johns Hopkins University,Baltimore,MD,USA.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences,Johns Hopkins Institute of Medicine,Baltimore,MD,USA.



Previous studies suggest that the relationship between genetic risk and depression may be moderated by stressful life events (SLEs). The goal of this study was to assess whether SLEs moderate the association between polygenic risk of major depressive disorder (MDD) and depressive symptoms in older adults.


We used logistic and negative binomial regressions to assess the associations between polygenic risk, SLEs and depressive symptoms in a sample of 8761 participants from the Health and Retirement Study. Polygenic scores were derived from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium genome-wide association study of MDD. SLEs were operationalized as a dichotomous variable indicating whether participants had experienced at least one stressful event during the previous 2 years. Depressive symptoms were measured using an eight-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale subscale and operationalized as both a dichotomous and a count variable.


The odds of reporting four or more depressive symptoms were over twice as high among individuals who experienced at least one SLE (odds ratio 2.19, 95% confidence interval 1.86-2.58). Polygenic scores were significantly associated with depressive symptoms (β = 0.21, p ⩽ 0.0001), although the variance explained was modest (pseudo r 2 = 0.0095). None of the interaction terms for polygenic scores and SLEs was statistically significant.


Polygenic risk and SLEs are robust, independent predictors of depressive symptoms in older adults. Consistent with an additive model, we found no evidence that SLEs moderated the association between common variant polygenic risk and depressive symptoms.



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