Parental depression and offspring psychopathology: a children of twins study

Psychol Med. 2011 Jul;41(7):1385-95. doi: 10.1017/S0033291710002059. Epub 2010 Nov 8.


Background: Associations between parental depression and offspring affective and disruptive disorders are well documented. Few genetically informed studies have explored the processes underlying intergenerational associations.

Method: A semi-structured interview assessing DSM-III-R psychiatric disorders was administered to twins (n=1296) from the Australian Twin Register (ATR), their spouses (n=1046) and offspring (n=2555). We used the Children of Twins (CoT) design to delineate the extent to which intergenerational associations were consistent with a causal influence or due to genetic confounds.

Results: In between-family analyses, parental depression was associated significantly with offspring depression [hazard ratio (HR) 1.52, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.20-1.93] and conduct disorder (CD; HR 2.27, CI 1.31-3.93). Survival analysis indicated that the intergenerational transmission of depression is consistent with a causal (environmental) inference, with a significant intergenerational association in offspring of discordant monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs (HR 1.39, CI 1.00-1.94). Logistic regression analysis suggested that the parental depression-offspring CD association was due to shared genetic liability in the parents and offspring. No intergenerational association was found when comparing the offspring of discordant MZ twins [odds ratio (OR) 1.41, CI 0.63-3.14], but offspring of discordant dizygotic (DZ) twins differed in their rates of CD (OR 2.53, CI 0.95-6.76). All findings remained after controlling for several measured covariates, including history of depression and CD in the twins' spouses.

Conclusions: The mechanisms underlying associations between parental depression and offspring psychopathology seem to differ depending on the outcome. The results are consistent with a causal environmental role of parental depression in offspring depression whereas common genetic factors account for the association of parental depression and offspring CD.

Publication types

  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Child of Impaired Parents / statistics & numerical data
  • Conduct Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Conduct Disorder / genetics
  • Conduct Disorder / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / genetics
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / psychology
  • Humans
  • Intergenerational Relations
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Spouses / psychology
  • Spouses / statistics & numerical data
  • Survival Analysis
  • Twins / psychology
  • Twins, Monozygotic / genetics
  • Twins, Monozygotic / psychology
  • Young Adult