Genetic Liability for Schizophrenia and Childhood Psychopathology in the General Population

Schizophr Bull. 2021 Jul 8;47(4):1179-1189. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbaa193.


Genetic liability for schizophrenia is associated with psychopathology in early life. It is not clear if these associations are time dependent during childhood, nor if they are specific across different forms of psychopathology. Using genotype and questionnaire data on children (N = 15 105) from the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study, we used schizophrenia polygenic risk scores to test developmental stability in associations with measures of emotional and behavioral problems between 18 months and 5 years, and domain specificity in associations with symptoms of depression, anxiety, conduct problems, oppositionality, inattention, and hyperactivity at 8 years. We then sought to identify symptom profiles-across development and domains-associated with schizophrenia polygenic liability. We found evidence for developmental stability in associations between schizophrenia polygenic risk scores and emotional and behavioral problems, with the latter being mediated specifically via the rate of change in symptoms (β slope = 0.032; 95% CI: 0.007-0.057). At age 8, associations were better explained by a model of symptom-specific polygenic effects rather than effects mediated via a general psychopathology factor or by domain-specific factors. Overall, individuals with higher schizophrenia polygenic risk scores were more likely (OR = 1.310 [95% CIs: 1.122-1.528]) to have a profile of increasing behavioral and emotional symptoms in early childhood, followed by elevated symptoms of conduct disorder, oppositionality, hyperactivity, and inattention by age 8. Schizophrenia-associated alleles are linked to specific patterns of early-life psychopathology. The associations are small, but findings of this nature can help us better understand the developmental emergence of schizophrenia.

Keywords: MoBa; childhood emotional and behavioral problems; developmental psychopathology; genetic risk; polygenic scores; schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / genetics*
  • Multifactorial Inheritance*
  • Norway
  • Psychopathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Schizophrenia / genetics*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires