Schizophrenia Risk Alleles, Peer Victimization Associated With Emotional Problems in Youth

DNA strand
DNA strand
Peer victimization may be an important modifiable factor in improving the developmental course among children.

Genetic risk for schizophrenia is associated with emotional problems in children and adolescents, per study data published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. In addition, peer victimization exposure in childhood may negatively affect emotional problem trajectories in those otherwise at low risk for emotional problems.

Investigators abstracted patient data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a prospective cohort study based in the United Kingdom. Emotional problems among participating children (ages 4-8 years) and adolescents (ages 12-17 years) were captured through parent report. Polygenic risk scores (PRSs) were calculated as the weighted mean number of schizophrenia risk alleles. Risk alleles were defined as those associated with case status in the Psychiatric Genomic Consortium. Peer victimization was assessed through patient interview.

For both children (n=8425) and adolescents (n=7018), researchers observed 3 emotional problem trajectory categories: low (79.2% in childhood; 83.3% in adolescence), decreasing (11.0% in childhood; 7.6% in adolescence), and increasing (9.8% in childhood; 9.1% in adolescence). Childhood and adolescent emotional trajectories were strongly associated; individuals in the “increasing” class in childhood were more likely to belong to the “increasing” class as adolescents (odds ratio [OR], 17.07; 95% CI, 10.30-28.30; P <.001). Greater schizophrenia PRSs were also associated with an increasing trajectory of emotional problems in childhood (OR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.02-1.36; P =.030). PRS also showed independent association with emotional problem trajectories in adolescence (OR, 1.17; 95% CI, 1.00-1.36; P =.050). Victimization in late childhood was predicted by earlier childhood emotional problems (OR, 1.79; 95% CI, 1.21-2.66; P =.004). In addition, chronic peer victimization was associated with transition from the “low” trajectory class in childhood to the “increasing” trajectory class in adolescence (OR, 2.59; 95% CI, 1.48-4.53; P =.001). This association remained significant when schizophrenia PRSs were incorporated into the model (OR, 2.57; 95% CI, 1.46-4.52; P =.001).

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Schizophrenia risk alleles may be predictive of early emotional problems in childhood and adolescence. In addition, peer victimization appeared to negatively affect the emotional problem trajectories of those with initially favorable trajectories. As such, the researchers emphasized peer victimization as an important modifiable factor in improving the developmental course among children.


Riglin L, Hammerton G, Heron J, et al. Developmental contributions of schizophrenia risk alleles and childhood peer victimization to early-onset mental health trajectories [published online November 29, 2018]. Am J Psychiatry. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.18010075