Do Current Measures of Polygenic Risk for Mental Disorders Contribute to Population Variance in Mental Health?

Schizophrenia Bulletin

Anne Marsman, Lotta-Katrin Pries, Margreet ten Have, Ron de Graaf, Saskia van Dorsselaer, Maarten Bak, Gunter Kenis, Bochao D Lin, Jurjen J Luykx, Bart P F Rutten, Sinan Guloksuz, Jim van Os


The polygenic risk score (PRS) allows for quantification of the relative contributions of genes and environment in population-based studies of mental health. We analyzed the impact of transdiagnostic schizophrenia PRS and measures of familial and environmental risk on the level of and change in general mental health (Short-Form-36 mental health) in the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study-2 general population sample, interviewed 4 times over a period of 9 years, yielding 8901 observations in 2380 individuals. Schizophrenia PRS, family history, somatic pain, and a range of environmental risks and social circumstances were included in the regression model of level of and change in mental health. We calculated the relative contribution of each (group of) risk factor(s) to the variance in (change in) mental health. In the combined model, familial and environmental factors explained around 17% of the variance in mental health, of which around 5% was explained by age and sex, 30% by social circumstances, 16% by pain, 22% by environmental risk factors, 24% by family history, and 3% by PRS for schizophrenia (PRS-SZ). Results were similar, but attenuated, for the model of mental health change over time. Childhood trauma and gap between actual and desired social status explained most of the variance. PRS for bipolar disorder, cross-disorder, and depression explained less variance in mental health than PRS-SZ. Polygenic risk for mental suffering, derived from significance-testing in massive samples, lacks impact in analyses focusing on prediction in a general population epidemiological setting. Social-environmental circumstances, particularly childhood trauma and perceived status gap, drive most of the attributable variation in population mental health.

Keywords: schizophrenia, psychotic disorder, genetics, environment, polygenic risk, mental health

Published: 16 July 2020

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