Estimating the heritability of reporting stressful life events captured by common genetic variants

R. A. Power, T. Wingenbach, S. Cohen-Woods, R. Uher, M. Y. Ng, A. W. Butler, M. Ising, N. Craddock, M. J. Owen, A. Korszun, L. Jones, I. Jones, M. Gill, J. P. Rice, W. Maier, A. Zobel, O. Mors, A. Placentino, M. Rietschel, S. LucaeF. Holsboer, E. B. Binder, R. Keers, F. Tozzi, P. Muglia, G. Breen, I. W. Craig, B. Müller-Myhsok, J. L. Kennedy, J. Strauss, J. B. Vincent, C. M. Lewis, A. E. Farmer, P. McGuffin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Background Although usually thought of as external environmental stressors, a significant heritable component has been reported for measures of stressful life events (SLEs) in twin studies. Method We examined the variance in SLEs captured by common genetic variants from a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of 2578 individuals. Genome-wide complex trait analysis (GCTA) was used to estimate the phenotypic variance tagged by single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). We also performed a GWAS on the number of SLEs, and looked at correlations between siblings. Results A significant proportion of variance in SLEs was captured by SNPs (30%, p = 0.04). When events were divided into those considered to be dependent or independent, an equal amount of variance was explained for both. This 'heritability' was in part confounded by personality measures of neuroticism and psychoticism. A GWAS for the total number of SLEs revealed one SNP that reached genome-wide significance (p = 4 × 10-8), although this association was not replicated in separate samples. Using available sibling data for 744 individuals, we also found a significant positive correlation of R 2 = 0.08 in SLEs (p = 0.03). Conclusions These results provide independent validation from molecular data for the heritability of reporting environmental measures, and show that this heritability is in part due to both common variants and the confounding effect of personality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1965-1971
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • GCTA
  • heritability of environment
  • personality
  • stressful life events


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