Sex-specific genetic association between psychiatric disorders and cognition, behavior and brain imaging in children and adults

Transl Psychiatry. 2022 Aug 26;12(1):347. doi: 10.1038/s41398-022-02041-6.


Although there are pronounced sex differences for psychiatric disorders, relatively little has been published on the heterogeneity of sex-specific genetic effects for these traits until very recently for adults. Much less is known about children because most psychiatric disorders will not manifest until later in life and existing studies for children on psychiatric traits such as cognitive functions are underpowered. We used results from publicly available genome-wide association studies for six psychiatric disorders and individual-level data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study and the UK Biobank (UKB) study to evaluate the associations between the predicted polygenic risk scores (PRS) of these six disorders and observed cognitive functions, behavioral and brain imaging traits. We further investigated the mediation effects of the brain structure and function, which showed heterogeneity between males and females on the correlation between genetic risk of schizophrenia and fluid intelligence. There was significant heterogeneity in genetic associations between the cognitive traits and psychiatric disorders between sexes. Specifically, the PRSs of schizophrenia of boys showed stronger correlation with eight of the ten cognitive functions in the ABCD data set; whereas the PRSs of autism of females showed a stronger correlation with fluid intelligence in the UKB data set. Besides cognitive traits, we also found significant sexual heterogeneity in genetic associations between psychiatric disorders and behavior and brain imaging. These results demonstrate the underlying early etiology of psychiatric disease and reveal a shared and unique genetic basis between the disorders and cognition traits involved in brain functions between the sexes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Multifactorial Inheritance*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Risk Factors