Novel genome-wide associations for anhedonia, genetic correlation with psychiatric disorders, and polygenic association with brain structure

Joey Ward, Laura M Lyall, Richard A I Bethlehem, Amy Ferguson, Rona J Strawbridge, Donald M Lyall, Breda Cullen, Nicholas Graham, Keira J A Johnston, Mark E S Bailey, Graham K Murray, Daniel J Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Anhedonia is a core symptom of several psychiatric disorders but its biological underpinnings are poorly understood. We performed a genome-wide association study of state anhedonia in 375,275 UK Biobank participants and assessed for genetic correlation between anhedonia and neuropsychiatric conditions (major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and Parkinson's Disease). We then used a polygenic risk score approach to test for association between genetic loading for anhedonia and both brain structure and brain function. This included: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) assessments of total grey matter volume, white matter volume, cerebrospinal fluid volume, and 15 cortical/subcortical regions of interest; diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) measures of white matter tract integrity; and functional MRI activity during an emotion processing task. We identified 11 novel loci associated at genome-wide significance with anhedonia, with a SNP heritability estimate (h2SNP) of 5.6%. Strong positive genetic correlations were found between anhedonia and major depressive disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; but not with obsessive compulsive disorder or Parkinson's Disease. Polygenic risk for anhedonia was associated with poorer brain white matter integrity, smaller total grey matter volume, and smaller volumes of brain regions linked to reward and pleasure processing, including orbito-frontal cortex. In summary, the identification of novel anhedonia-associated loci substantially expands our current understanding of the biological basis of state anhedonia and genetic correlations with several psychiatric disorders confirm the utility of this phenotype as a transdiagnostic marker of vulnerability to mental illness. We also provide the first evidence that genetic risk for state anhedonia influences brain structure, including in regions associated with reward and pleasure processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2019


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anhedonia/physiology
  • Brain/diagnostic imaging
  • Cohort Studies
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Genetic Loci/genetics
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders/diagnostic imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Multifactorial Inheritance/genetics


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