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Common psychiatric disorders share the same genetic origin: a multivariate sibling study of the Swedish population


Recent studies have shown that different mental-health problems appear to be partly influenced by the same set of genes, which can be summarized by a general genetic factor. To date, such studies have relied on surveys of community-based samples, which could introduce potential biases. The goal of this study was to examine whether a general genetic factor would still emerge when based on a different ascertainment method with different biases from previous studies. We targeted all adults in Sweden (n=3 475 112) using national registers and identified those who had received one or more psychiatric diagnoses after seeking or being forced into mental health care. In order to examine the genetic versus environmental etiology of the general factor, we examined whether participants’ full- or half-siblings had also received diagnoses. We focused on eight major psychiatric disorders based on the International Classification of Diseases, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, alcohol use disorder and drug abuse. In addition, we included convictions of violent crimes. Multivariate analyses demonstrated that a general genetic factor influenced all disorders and convictions of violent crimes, accounting for between 10% (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and 36% (drug abuse) of the variance of the conditions. Thus, a general genetic factor of psychopathology emerges when based on both surveys as well as national registers, indicating that a set of pleiotropic genes influence a variety of psychiatric disorders.

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This research was funded by National Institute of Health (R01 HD056354-04A1); the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life, and Welfare; and the Swedish Research Council. We are grateful to Amir Sariaslan for preparing the data set and to Ralf Kuja-Halkola for valuable contributions to our discussion about shared environment assumptions.

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Correspondence to E Pettersson.

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Pettersson, E., Larsson, H. & Lichtenstein, P. Common psychiatric disorders share the same genetic origin: a multivariate sibling study of the Swedish population. Mol Psychiatry 21, 717–721 (2016).

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