Polygenic liability, stressful life events and risk for secondary-treated depression in early life: a nationwide register-based case-cohort study

Psychol Med. 2021 May 5;1-10. doi: 10.1017/S0033291721001410. Online ahead of print.


Background: In this study, we examined the relationship between polygenic liability for depression and number of stressful life events (SLEs) as risk factors for early-onset depression treated in inpatient, outpatient or emergency room settings at psychiatric hospitals in Denmark.

Methods: Data were drawn from the iPSYCH2012 case-cohort sample, a population-based sample of individuals born in Denmark between 1981 and 2005. The sample included 18 532 individuals who were diagnosed with depression by a psychiatrist by age 31 years, and a comparison group of 20 184 individuals. Information on SLEs was obtained from nationwide registers and operationalized as a time-varying count variable. Hazard ratios and cumulative incidence rates were estimated using Cox regressions.

Results: Risk for depression increased by 35% with each standard deviation increase in polygenic liability (p < 0.0001), and 36% (p < 0.0001) with each additional SLE. There was a small interaction between polygenic liability and SLEs (β = -0.04, p = 0.0009). The probability of being diagnosed with depression in a hospital-based setting between ages 15 and 31 years ranged from 1.5% among males in the lowest quartile of polygenic liability with 0 events by age 15, to 18.8% among females in the highest quartile of polygenic liability with 4+ events by age 15.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that although there is minimal interaction between polygenic liability and SLEs as risk factors for hospital-treated depression, combining information on these two important risk factors could potentially be useful for identifying high-risk individuals.

Keywords: Absolute risk; case-cohort study; depression; interaction; polygenic risk scores; stressful life events.