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Gene–environment interplay in depressive symptoms: moderation by age, sex, and physical illness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 February 2017

A. J. Petkus
Department of Neurology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
C. R. Beam
Department of Psychology & Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CAUSA
W. Johnson
Department of Psychology, Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
J. Kaprio
Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland Institute for Molecular Medicine (FIMM), University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
T. Korhonen
Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland Institute for Molecular Medicine (FIMM), University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland
M. McGue
Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN,USA The Danish Twin Registry, University of Southern Denmark, Institute of Public Health, Epidemiology, Odense C, Denmark
J. M. Neiderhiser
Department of Psychology, Penn State University, University Park, PA, USA
N. L. Pedersen
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
C. A. Reynolds
Department of Psychology, University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA, USA
M. Gatz*
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
*Address for correspondence: M. Gatz, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061, USA. (Email:



Numerous factors influence late-life depressive symptoms in adults, many not thoroughly characterized. We addressed whether genetic and environmental influences on depressive symptoms differed by age, sex, and physical illness.


The analysis sample included 24 436 twins aged 40–90 years drawn from the Interplay of Genes and Environment across Multiple Studies (IGEMS) Consortium. Biometric analyses tested age, sex, and physical illness moderation of genetic and environmental variance in depressive symptoms.


Women reported greater depressive symptoms than men. After age 60, there was an accelerating increase in depressive symptom scores with age, but this did not appreciably affect genetic and environmental variances. Overlap in genetic influences between physical illness and depressive symptoms was greater in men than in women. Additionally, in men extent of overlap was greater with worse physical illness (the genetic correlation ranged from near 0.00 for the least physical illness to nearly 0.60 with physical illness 2 s.d. above the mean). For men and women, the same environmental factors that influenced depressive symptoms also influenced physical illness.


Findings suggested that genetic factors play a larger part in the association between depressive symptoms and physical illness for men than for women. For both sexes, across all ages, physical illness may similarly trigger social and health limitations that contribute to depressive symptoms.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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Members of the IGEMS Consortium are given in the Appendix.


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