Genetic and psychosocial influence on the association between early childhood infections and later psychiatric disorders

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2022 Nov;146(5):406-419. doi: 10.1111/acps.13491. Epub 2022 Sep 8.


To evaluate the influence of extensive genetic and psychosocial confounding on the association between early childhood infection and five major psychiatric disorders METHODS: A case-cohort study including participants from the Danish iPSYCH2012 sample, a case-cohort sample where all cases born between May 1, 1981, and December 31, 2005, diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), bipolar affective disorder (BIP), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) or schizophrenia (SCZ), were identified and pooled with a representative sample (subcohort) of the Danish population. We used Cox proportional hazards regression customized to the case-cohort setup to calculate hazard ratios of outcome with 95% confidence intervals (CIs), following exposure to early childhood infection before the age of 5 years for ADHD and ASD, and before the age of 10 years for BIP, MDD, and SCZ. To evaluate psychosocial confounding we included sex, calendar period, sibling infections, urbanicity, parental socio-economic status, parental mental health information, and polygenic risk scores for all five disorders, as covariates. To estimate how liability for psychiatric disorders measured through the PRS influenced the risk of early childhood infection, we calculated odds ratios (ORs) with 95% CIs, using logistic regression RESULTS: Early childhood infection was associated with ADHD, ASD, MDD, and SCZ with number of childhood infections increasing the hazard. The HR was still significant in the model with full adjustments after 1 infection for ADHD (HR 1.29, 95% CI: 1.19-1.41), ASD (HR 1.28, 95% CI: 1.18-1.40), MDD (HR 1.23, 95% CI: 1.14-1.33), and SCZ (HR 1.21, 95% CI: 1.07-1.36), but not for BIP (HR1.17, 95% CI: 0.96-1.42). Probands exposed to sibling infections, but not own infection had an absolute risk of ADHD, BIP, MDD, and SCZ that closely approached the absolute risk for individuals exposed to own infections. We found evidence of gene-environment correlation with higher PRS of MDD and to some extent SCZ increasing the risk of infections and higher PRS of BIP associated with significantly decreased risk CONCLUSION: Early childhood infection is significantly associated with ADHD, ASD, MDD, and SCZ and not explained by genetic or psychosocial confounding. Although we found evidence of gene-environment correlation, it had minor impact on the results.

Keywords: case-cohort study; early childhood infection; major psychiatric disorders; polygenic risk scores; sibling comparison.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / diagnosis
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / genetics
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / genetics
  • Bipolar Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Bipolar Disorder* / genetics
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / genetics
  • Humans