Medical Studies Mental Illness

Nature vs. Nurture: A case study on the heritability of Psychotic Episodes

Interesting study from Taylor et al. (2022), which aims to examine to what extent psychotic experiences become less heritable when adolescents are exposed to more environmental risk factors? The methods are outlined as follows:

This twin study, conducted from December 1, 2014, to August 31, 2020, included a UK-based sample of twin pairs aged 16 years. This investigation evaluated the extent to which the genetic variance underlying psychotic experiences and the magnitude of the heritability of psychotic experiences was moderated by exposure to 5 environmental risk factors (bullying, dependent life events, cannabis use, tobacco use, and low birth weight). Psychotic experiences were assessed by 5 self-reported measures and 1 parent-reported measure. Participants’ exposure to environmental risks was assessed at birth and age 12 to 16 years. 

Using this approach, the authors found that:

More exposure to environmental risk factors was associated with having more psychotic experiences. The relative contribution of genetic influences to psychotic experiences was lower with increasing environmental exposure for paranoia (44%; 95% CI, 33%-53% to 38%; 95% CI, 14%-58%), cognitive disorganization (47%; 95% CI, 38%-51% to 32%; 95% CI, 11%-45%), grandiosity (41%; 95% CI, 29%-52% to 32%; 95% CI, 9%-48%), and anhedonia (49%; 95% CI, 42%-53% to 37%; 95% CI, 15%-54%). This pattern was replicated for the measure of psychotic experiences in the independent Swedish replication sample. The heritability of hallucinations and parent-rated negative symptoms remained relatively constant.

The authors interpret the results as follows:

These results suggest gene-by-environment interactions in relation to psychotic experiences; some groups of individuals with seemingly low genetic risk for psychotic experience may develop them if exposed to high levels of environmental risk, in a similar manner to clinical observations in relation to schizophrenia.

Read the full paper in JAMA Psychiatry here.

HT: Kevin Lewis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *