The role of parental genotype in the intergenerational transmission of externalizing behavior: Evidence for genetic nurturance

Dev Psychopathol. 2022 Oct 6:1-11. doi: 10.1017/S0954579422000700. Online ahead of print.


The purpose of this study was to examine possible pathways by which genetic risk associated with externalizing is transmitted in families. We used molecular data to disentangle the genetic and environmental pathways contributing to adolescent externalizing behavior in a sample of 1,111 adolescents (50% female; 719 European and 392 African ancestry) and their parents from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism. We found evidence for genetic nurture such that parental externalizing polygenic scores were associated with adolescent externalizing behavior, over and above the effect of adolescents' own externalizing polygenic scores. Mediation analysis indicated that parental externalizing psychopathology partly explained the effect of parental genotype on children's externalizing behavior. We also found evidence for evocative gene-environment correlation, whereby adolescent externalizing polygenic scores were associated with lower parent-child communication, less parent-child closeness, and lower parental knowledge, controlling for parental genotype. These effects were observed among participants of European ancestry but not African ancestry, likely due to the limited predictive power of polygenic scores across ancestral background. These results demonstrate that in addition to genetic transmission, genes influence offspring behavior through the influence of parental genotypes on their children's environmental experiences, and the role of children's genotypes in shaping parent-child relationships.

Keywords: adolescent externalizing; gene-environment correlation; genetic nurture; parenting; polygenic score.