The hypothesis that the S allele of the 5-HTTLPR serotonin transporter promoter region is associated with increased risk of depression, but only in individuals exposed to stressful situations, has generated much interest, research and controversy since first proposed in 2003. Multiple meta-analyses combining results from heterogeneous analyses have not settled the issue. To determine the magnitude of the interaction and the conditions under which it might be observed, we performed new analyses on 31 data sets containing 38â€‰802 European ancestry subjects genotyped for 5-HTTLPR and assessed for depression and childhood maltreatment or other stressful life events, and meta-analysed the results. Analyses targeted two stressors (narrow, broad) and two depression outcomes (current, lifetime). All groups that published on this topic prior to the initiation of our study and met the assessment and sample size criteria were invited to participate. Additional groups, identified by consortium members or self-identified in response to our protocol (published prior to the start of analysis) with qualifying unpublished data, were also invited to participate. A uniform data analysis script implementing the protocol was executed by each of the consortium members. Our findings do not support the interaction hypothesis. We found no subgroups or variable definitions for which an interaction between stress and 5-HTTLPR genotype was statistically significant. In contrast, our findings for the main effects of life stressors (strong risk factor) and 5-HTTLPR genotype (no impact on risk) are strikingly consistent across our contributing studies, the original study reporting the interaction and subsequent meta-analyses. Our conclusion is that if an interaction exists in which the S allele of 5-HTTLPR increases risk of depression only in stressed individuals, then it is not broadly generalisable, but must be of modest effect size and only observable in limited situations.
Background. Despite many attempts to understand the genetic architecture of depression, little progress has been made. The majority of these studies, however, have been carried out in adults and do not account for the potential influence of development. Methods. The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) is a longitudinal pregnancy cohort which recruited participants between April 1991 and December 1992. Analyses were replicated in two independent European cohorts. Genome-wide complex trait analysis (GCTA) software was used to investigate SNP-heritability (h2SNP) of depression across adolescence, the role of puberty was investigated by stratifying these estimates according to pubertal onset. Genome-wide association studies were performed to identify genetic variants associated with depression at different stages of development. Results. Heritability was estimated between the ages of 11 and 18 with sample sizes ranging from 3289 to 5480. Heritability was low with an apparent peak was found at age 13 (h2 = 0.17, p = 0.006). Confidence intervals around these estimates suggest an upper-bound to h2SNP of around 30%. A variant located on chromosome 7 was found to be associated with depressive symptoms at age 13 in ALSPAC (rs138191010: Î² = 0.142, p = 2.51 Ã— 10-8), although this was not replicated. Conclusions. Although power is a potential limitation, the observed patterns provide interesting hypotheses surrounding the heritability of depression at different developmental stages. We found substantially lower estimates for depressive symptoms at age 11 (0.07) compared to those previously estimated in adults (0.21). We also found a peak in heritability at age 13. These findings suggest environmental factors are likely to be more important in the aetiology of depressive symptoms in early adolescence than in adulthood.
The existing literature does not provide consistent evidence that carriers of the Dopamine D4 Receptor 7-repeat allele are more sensitive to adverse environmental influences, resulting in enhanced externalizing problems, compared to noncarriers. One explanation is that the adverse influences examined in prior studies were not severe, chronic, or distressing enough to reveal individual differences in sensitivity reflected by DRD4–7R. This study examined whether the 7-repeat allele moderated the association between chronic stressors capturing multiple stressful aspects of individuals’ lives and externalizing problems in adolescence. We expected that chronic stressor levels would be associated with externalizing levels only in 7-repeat carriers. Using Linear Mixed Models, we analyzed data from 1621 Dutch adolescents (52.2% boys), obtained in three measurement waves (mean age approximately 11, 13.5, and 16 years) from the TRacking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS) population-based birth cohort and the parallel clinic-referred cohort. Across informants, we found that higher levels of chronic stressors were related to higher externalizing levels in 7-repeat carriers but not in noncarriers, as hypothesized. Although previous studies on the 7-repeat allele as a moderator of environmental influences on adolescents’ externalizing problems have not convincingly demonstrated individual differences in sensitivity to adverse environmental influences, our findings suggest that adolescent carriers of the Dopamine D4 Receptor 7-repeat allele are more sensitive to chronic, multi-context stressors than noncarriers.