Mapping Pathways by Which Genetic Risk Influences Adolescent Externalizing Behavior: The Interplay Between Externalizing Polygenic Risk Scores, Parental Knowledge, and Peer Substance Use

Behav Genet. 2021 Sep;51(5):543-558. doi: 10.1007/s10519-021-10067-7. Epub 2021 Jun 12.


Genetic predispositions and environmental influences both play an important role in adolescent externalizing behavior; however, they are not always independent. To elucidate gene-environment interplay, we examined the interrelationships between externalizing polygenic risk scores, parental knowledge, and peer substance use in impacting adolescent externalizing behavior across two time-points in a high-risk longitudinal sample of 1,200 adolescents (764 European and 436 African ancestry; Mage = 12.99) from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism. Results from multivariate path analysis indicated that externalizing polygenic scores were directly associated with adolescent externalizing behavior but also indirectly via peer substance use, in the European ancestry sample. No significant polygenic association nor indirect effects of genetic risk were observed in the African ancestry group, likely due to more limited power. Our findings underscore the importance of gene-environment interplay and suggest peer substance use may be a mechanism through which genetic risk influences adolescent externalizing behavior.

Keywords: Adolescent externalizing; Gene–environment interplay; Parenting; Peers; Polygenic score.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Multifactorial Inheritance / genetics
  • Parenting
  • Parents
  • Peer Group
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / genetics