Genetic and environmental influences on Anxious/Depression during childhood: a study from the Netherlands Twin Register

D I Boomsma, C E M van Beijsterveldt, J J Hudziak
Genes, Brain, and Behavior 2005, 4 (8): 466-81
For a large sample of twin pairs from the Netherlands Twins Register who were recruited at birth and followed through childhood, we obtained parental ratings of Anxious/Depression (A/D). Maternal ratings were obtained at ages 3 years (for 9025 twin pairs), 5 years (9222 pairs), 7 years (7331 pairs), 10 years (4430 pairs) and 12 years (2363 pairs). For 60-90% of the pairs, father ratings were also available. Multivariate genetic models were used to test for rater-independent and rater-specific assessments of A/D and to determine the genetic and environmental influences on individual differences in A/D at different ages. At all ages, monozygotic twins resembled each other more closely for A/D than dizygotic twins, implying genetic influences on variation in A/D. Opposite sex twin pairs resembled each other to same extent as same-sex dizygotic twins, suggesting that the same genes are expressed in boys and girls. Heritability estimates for rater-independent A/D were high in 3-year olds (76%) and decreased in size as children grew up [60% at age 5, 67% at age 7, 53% at age 10 (60% in boys) and 48% at age 12 years]. The decrease in genetic influences was accompanied by an increase in the influence of the shared family environment [absent at ages 3 and 7, 16% at age 5, 20% at age 10 (5% in boys) and 18% at age 12 years]. The agreement between parental A/D ratings was between 0.5 and 0.7, with somewhat higher correlations for the youngest group. Disagreement in ratings between the parents was not merely the result of unreliability or rater bias. Both the parents provided unique information from their own perspective on the behavior of their children. Significant influences of genetic and shared environmental factors were found for the unique parental views. At all ages, the contribution of shared environmental factors to variation in rater-specific views was higher for father ratings. Also, at all ages except age 12, the heritability estimates for the rater-specific phenotype were higher for mother ratings (59% at age 3 and decreasing to 27% at age 12 years) than for father ratings (between 14 and 29%). Differences between children, even as young as 3 years, in A/D are to a large extent due to genetic differences. As children grow up, the variation in A/D is due in equal parts to genetic and environmental influences. Anxious/Depression, unlike many other common childhood psychopathologies, is influenced by the shared family environment. These findings may provide support for why certain family therapeutic approaches are effective in the A/D spectrum of illnesses.

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