Development and Psychopathology

Research Article

Assessing gene–environment interactions on anxiety symptom subtypes across childhood and adolescence

Jennifer Y. F. Laua1a2 c1, Alice M. Gregorya2a3, Michelle A. Goldwina1, Daniel S. Pinea1 and Thalia C. Eleya2

a1 US National Institute of Mental Health

a2 Kings College London

a3 Goldsmiths College, London

Abstract

Consistent evidence shows both genetic and stress-related risks on child and adolescent anxiety, yet few studies have considered the degree to which genetic effects are moderated by stress (gene–environment interaction). We used longitudinal data from both a child and adolescent sample of twins to examine three novel issues on the presence of gene–environment interaction on anxiety symptoms. First, we assessed moderation of genetic risks on anxiety symptoms by negative life events in each age group. Second, by distinguishing between “stable” and “age-specific” genetic factors, we explored the continuity of gene–environment interaction across time and/or its emergence at specific ages. Third, we compared the presence of gene–environment interaction across different symptom types (general, panic, social, and separation). Genetic effects on separation anxiety symptoms in childhood (mean age = 8 years, 6 months) and panic anxiety symptoms in adolescence (mean age = 15 years) increased across independent negative life events. Shared environmental effects on separation anxiety symptoms and nonshared environmental effects on general anxiety symptoms in adolescence were also moderated by negative life events. We interpret these preliminary findings tentatively in the context of gene–environment interaction on anxiety in general, and on early separation and later panic anxiety in particular.

Correspondence

c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Jennifer Lau, NIMH/NIH, 15K, North Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892-2670; E-mail: lauj@mail.nih.gov.

Footnotes

We thank all participants from the G1219 and ECHO studies. We are also grateful to Jeanette Augustin, Pippa Carter, Sally Cartwright, David Clark, Georgina Hosang, Alessandra Iervolino, Orla Jordan, Holan Liang, Helen Mathews, Barbara Maughan, Fiona McCleod, Peter McGuffin, Maria Napolitano, Robert Plomin, Frühling Rijsdijk, Richard Rowe, Pak Sham, Nina Shiffrin, Jasmine Singh, Abram Sterne, Lucy Stirling, Eileen Walsh, and Richard Williamson for their assistance on various aspects of the study. This research was supported by the W. T. Grant Foundation, the University of London Central Research Fund, and two Medical Research Council fellowships to the last author. The first author was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health.