Familial influences on the clinical characteristics of major depression: a twin study

K. S. Kendler, M. C. Neale, R. C. Kessler, A. C. Heath, L. J. Eaves

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We sought in this study to clarify the role that familial factors play in influencing the clinical presentation of major depression (MD). We examined the similarity of the historical and symptomatic features of MD in 176 pairs of female‐female monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins from a population‐based registry, where both members reported a history of MD defined by DSM‐III‐R criteria. The age at onset and treatment‐seeking were significantly correlated in all twin pairs and the correlation in concordant DZ pairs was actually somewhat higher than in concordant MZ twins. The degree of impairment was modestly correlated in all twin pairs with substantially higher correlations in MZ vs DZ twins. No twin resemblance was observed for number of episodes or longest duration of an episode. Twin resemblance for the clinical features of MD was modest, but so was their consistency for the same individual over successive 1‐year periods. However, in 5 of the 6 neurovegetative symptoms involving changes in appetite, weight and sleep, MZ twins were significantly correlated and correlations were significantly greater in concordant MZ vs DZ twins. Although the familial factors that cause twin resemblance for the age at onset and treatment seeking appear to be largely environmental, twin resemblance for the degree of impairment and neurovegetative symptoms are probably due largely to genetic factors. Our results suggest that familial factors influence the predisposition to some clinical features of MD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-378
Number of pages8
JournalActa Psychiatrica Scandinavica
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1992


  • depression
  • family
  • twin


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