Background: Seasonal rhythms in mood and behavior (seasonality) have been reported to occur in the general population. Seasonal affective disorder, a clinically diagnosed syndrome, is believed to represent the morbid extreme of a spectrum of seasonality. Two types of seasonality have been clinically described: one characterized by a winter pattern and a second by a summer pattern of depressive mood disturbance.
Methods: By using methods of univariate and multivariate genetic analysis, we examined the relative contribution of genetic and environmental factors to the risk of seasonality symptoms that were assessed by a mailed questionnaire of 4639 adult twins from a volunteer-based registry in Australia.
Results: Seasonality was associated with a winter rather than a summer pattern of mood and behavioral change. In each behavioral domain (ie, mood, energy, social activity, sleep, appetite, and weight), a significant genetic influence on the reporting of seasonal changes was found. Consistent with the hypothesis of a seasonal syndrome, genetic effects were found to exert a global influence across all behavioral changes, accounting for at least 29% of the variance in seasonality in men and women.
Conclusions: There is a tendency for seasonal changes in mood and behavior to run in families, especially seasonality of the winter type, and this is largely due to a biological predisposition. These findings support continuing efforts to understand the role of seasonality in the development of mood disorders.