GxE = ‘p’? Using Hierarchical Measures of Psychopathology to Capture the Effects of Environmental Stressors and Gene-Environment Interplay

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2019

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Abstract

Exposure to psychosocial stress is a robust predictor of subsequent psychopathology. However, only a portion of individuals with these experiences will develop psychiatric symptoms. The concept of gene-environment interaction (GxE) has provided one theoretical framework for reconciling these observations, but the empirical findings from this literature are mixed and often fail to replicate across studies. This dissertation explores the use of a relatively new approach to measuring the mental-health effects of environmental stress (the “p-factor”), and examines whether this approach has the potential to advance and consolidate studies of gene-environment interaction and psychopathology. First, I present lifetime prevalence data from The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study indicating that mental disorder is near-ubiquitous, consistent with the notion that liability to these conditions is distributed quantitatively throughout the population. Second, I present analyses from the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study showing that the mental-health effects of victimization exposure (one of the most common and severe types of psychosocial stress) are both non-specific and likely causal. These data suggest that stressful life experiences increase risk of psychopathology largely through effects on general liability. Third, I examine whether victimization’s effects on general psychopathology vary as a function of multiple measures of genetic propensity. Results consistently indicate that they do not, suggesting minimal gene-environment interaction. Implications for future research that seeks to identify the genetic and non-genetic factors that determine vulnerability and resilience to the mental-health effects of environmental stress are discussed.

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Schaefer, Jonathan Drew (2019). GxE = ‘p’? Using Hierarchical Measures of Psychopathology to Capture the Effects of Environmental Stressors and Gene-Environment Interplay. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/19888.

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