Polygenic risks for joint developmental trajectories of internalizing and externalizing problems: Findings from the ALSPAC cohort

Lydia Gabriela Speyer*, Samuel Neaves, Hildigunnur Anna Hall, Gibran Hemani, Michael Vincent Lombardo, Aja Louise Murray, Bonnie Auyeung, Michelle Luciano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Joint developmental trajectories of internalizing and externalizing problems show considerable heterogeneity; however, this can be parsed into a small number of meaningful subgroups. Doing so offered insights into risk factors that lead to different patterns of internalizing/externalizing trajectories. However, despite both domains of problems showing strong heritability, no study has yet considered genetic risks as predictors of joint internalizing/externalizing problem trajectories. 

Methods: Using parallel process latent class growth analysis, we estimated joint developmental trajectories of internalizing and externalizing difficulties assessed across ages 4 to 16 using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Multinomial logistic regression was used to evaluate a range of demographic, perinatal, maternal mental health, and child and maternal polygenic predictors of group membership. Participants included 11,049 children taking part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Polygenic data were available for 7,127 children and 6,836 mothers. 

Results: A 5-class model was judged optimal: Unaffected, Moderate Externalizing Symptoms, High Externalizing Symptoms, Moderate Internalizing and Externalizing Symptoms and High Internalizing and Externalizing Symptoms. Male sex, lower maternal age, maternal mental health problems, maternal smoking during pregnancy, higher child polygenic risk scores for ADHD and lower polygenic scores for IQ distinguished affected classes from the unaffected class. 

Conclusions: While affected classes could be relatively well separated from the unaffected class, phenotypic and polygenic predictors were limited in their ability to distinguish between different affected classes. Results thus add to existing evidence that internalizing and externalizing problems have mostly shared risk factors.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Early online date2 Dec 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Dec 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • externalizing
  • internalizing
  • joint mental health trajectories
  • polygenic risk


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