ArticlePDF AvailableLiterature Review

Genetic Influences on Anxiety in Children: What we’ve Learned and Where we’re Heading



Anxiety is a common problem, typically beginning early in life. This article explores reasons for individual differences in levels of anxiety among children, by reviewing the genetic literature. The plethora of research to date has demonstrated clearly that both genes and environmental influences play important roles in explaining differences in levels of anxiety of various types among children. This has encouraged researchers to search for specific genes and environmental influences upon anxiety. Despite important progress in identifying links between anxiety and specific genes--including associations between serotonin and dopamine genes and different symptoms of anxiety--overall, progress has been slow because multiple genes of small effect size are likely to influence anxiety. This article explains how the hunt for genes involved in anxiety is likely to benefit from genetically sensitive research, which examines the co-occurrence of symptoms; includes measures of the environment; and examines endophenotypes and risk pathways.
GOLDSMITHS Research Online
Article (refereed)
Gregory, Alice M. and Eley, Thalia C.
Genetic Influences on Anxiety in Children: What we've
Learned and Where we're Heading
Originally published in Clinical Child and Family PsychologyThe publisher's
version is available at:
You may cite this version as: Gregory, Alice M. and Eley, Thalia C., 2007.
Genetic Influences on Anxiety in Children: What we've Learned and Where
we're Heading. Clinical Child and Family Psychology . ISSN 1096-4037
[Article] (In Press): Goldsmiths Research Online.
Available at:
This document is the author’s final manuscript version of the journal article,
incorporating any revisions agreed during peer review. Some differences
between this version and the publisher’s version remain. You are advised to
consult the publisher’s version if you wish to cite from it.
Copyright © and Moral Rights for the papers on this site are retained by the
individual authors and/or other copyright owners.
Contact Goldsmiths Research Online at:
Goldsmiths Research Online © The authors, 2007
Originally published: Clinical Child and Family Psychology (2007)
DOI: 10.1007/s10567-007-0022-8. The original publication is available at
Genetic Inuences on Anxiety in Children: What we’ve
Learned and Where we're Heading
Alice M. Gregory,
and Thalia C. Eley
Psychology Department, Goldsmiths College, University of London, Lewisham Way, New Cross,
London, SE14 6NW, UK
Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of
Psychiatry, King’s College London, London, UK
To whom correspondence should be addressed; e-mail:
Anxiety is a common problem, typically beginning early in life. This article explores reasons for
individual dierences in levels of anxiety among children, by reviewing the genetic literature. The
plethora of research to date has demonstrated clearly that both genes and environmental
inuences play important roles in explaining dierences in levels of anxiety of various types
among children. This has encouraged researchers to search for specic genes and
environmental inuences upon anxiety. Despite important progress in identifying links between
anxiety and specic genes—including associations between serotonin and dopamine genes and
dierent symptoms of anxiety—overall, progress has been slow because multiple genes of small
eect size are likely to inuence anxiety. This article explains how the hunt for genes involved in
anxiety is likely to benet from genetically sensitive research, which examines the co-occurrence
of symptoms; includes measures of the environment; and examines endophenotypes and risk
KEY WORDS: anxiety; children; environment; genes; twins
Anxiety is characterized by fear, concern or dread. This may be related to a specic event or
situation that is perceived threatening, or may be more pervasive. Individuals with high levels of
anxiety may meet criteria for an anxiety disorder, of which there are many types (Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV, American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Although
anxiety is a common diculty occurring throughout the life-course it typically begins early in life
(Gregory et al., 2007; Kessler, Berglund, Demler, Jin, & Walters, 2005), which suggests that
research examining the origins of anxiety may be benecial in childhood. While most children
show at least some symptoms of anxiety, the exact prevalence of anxiety disorders is debatable.
For example, a review of epidemiological studies examining rates of anxiety disorders in
preadolescent children reported prevalence rates between 2.6 and 41.2% (Cartwright-Hatton,
McNicol, & Doubleday, 2006).
Given the widespread nature of childhood anxiety, researchers are trying to understand more
about why anxiety develops and persists. One research area of rapid growth in this respect is
genetics and this type of research has tended to focus upon symptoms of anxiety within the full
range as opposed to anxiety disorders. A sceptic may point out that we are stuck with the genes
that we are born with and argue that therefore, understanding the way in which genes inuence
behavior is of little use. However, as will be discussed in the course of this article, it is becoming
increasingly clear that although it is true that our genes do not change throughout development,
genes may become more or less inuential over time; and the environment can inuence the way
in which our genes impact upon our emotions and behaviors. This article will document the
progress that has been made in understanding genetic and environmental inuences on
childhood anxiety. Although there are numerous reviews of this literature (e.g., Eley, 1999) this
review is novel in its greater emphasis on current research eorts that may take us further toward
the ultimate aims of identifying those at risk for developing anxiety, and improving preventions
and treatments for these common diculties. While it is beyond the scope of this article to include
an exhaustive review of genetic research on childhood anxiety, central themes are outlined and
illustrated with key research articles.
Family, Twin and Adoption Studies
Family studies have demonstrated that anxiety runs in families (e.g., Biederman, Rosenbaum,
Bolduc, Faraone, & Hirshfeld, 1991; Last, Hersen, Kazdin, Orvaschel, & Perrin, 1991; Turner,
Beidel, & Costello, 1987; Weissman, Leckman, Merikangas, Gammon, & Pruso, 1984). For
example, a classic family study compared anxiety in normal school children and those of parents
with anxiety disorders, dysthymia or who had never been mentally ill (Turner et al., 1987). The
children of anxious parents were more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as
compared to the other groups of children. Despite the ability of these studies to highlight
familiality, they go no way toward disentangling genetic and environmental inuences on anxiety.
In order to estimate the inuences of genetic and environmental factors on a trait two main types
of studies have been used, namely twin and adoption studies. These studies are also able to
distinguish environmental inuences that are shared from those that are non-shared. The
rationale for twin and adoption studies and their limitations are discussed.
Twin studies are able to disentangle genetic and environmental inuences by comparing within-
pair similarity for groups of monozygotic (MZ) twins who are genetic clones, and dizygotic (DZ)
twins who share on average half their segregating genes (Plomin, DeFries, McClearn, &
McGun, 2001). In the standard univariate twin design, variance in a phenotype (Vp) is divided
into three latent (estimated) factors described as additive genetics (A), common or shared
environment (C), and non-shared environment (E), so that
= A+C+E (1)
Additive genetics refers to the eects of alleles (alternative forms of a gene) or loci ‘‘adding up.’’
Shared environment can be dened as environmental inuences making family members
resemble one another, and typically includes within family inuences such as family socio-
economic status. Non-shared environment refers to environmental inuences that do not result in
increased similarity between family members. A possible example of a non-shared environmental
inuence is peer group, which could act so as to make siblings dier from one another.
Resemblance within monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs (
MZ) is due to genes and shared environment,
MZ = A+C (2)
Resemblance within DZ pairs (rDZ) is due to sharing half their segregating genes and their
shared environment, such that
DZ = ½ A+C (3)
From equations (2) and (3) it is possible to estimate heritability as twice the dierence between
the MZ and DZ correlations
A = 2(rMZ-rDZ) (4)
Shared environment can be estimated as the dierence between the MZ correlation (2) and heri-
tability (4)
C =
MZ - A (5)
Non-shared environmental inuence is the only thing that makes identical twins dier from one
another, and can therefore be calculated as the total phenotypic variance (1), which is usually
standardized to 1 for ease of interpretation, minus the rMZ correlation (2)
E = 1 -
MZ (6)
Twin data can also be used to estimate the eects of genetic dominance, which refers to the
interaction of dierent alleles at a locus. Dominance is rarely seen in data on anxiety, so is not
discussed further (for more detail of dominance see Plomin et al., 2001).
Whilst twin studies have been described as ‘‘the perfect natural experiment’’ (Martin, Boomsma,
& Machin, 1997) they are not without limitations, three of which are outlined (for a more
comprehensive discussion of limitations of twin studies, see Plomin et al., 2001; Rutter, 2006).
The rst limitation concerns chorionicity. All DZ twins are dichorionic (they had separate sacs in
the amnion), whereas only one-third of MZ twins are dichorionic. The remaining two-thirds of MZ
twins are monochorionic, having shared a single sac in the amnion. Critics of the twin
methodology argue that increased pre-natal similarity due to monochorionicity increases similarity
between monochorionic MZ twins, which would result in an articial ination of estimates of
heritability. This possibility is balanced by the nding that monochorionic twins are more likely to
experience birth defects than dichorionic twins (Adegbite, Castille, Ward, & Bajoria, 2004)—which
typically act so as to make twins less similar to one another and therefore result in articially
decreasing estimates of heritability.
The second limitation focuses upon the equal environments assumption, which proposes that the
only reason that MZ twins are more similar on a trait than DZ twins is because they share more
segregating genes. Twin studies assume that environmental inuences do not make MZ twins
more similar to one another than DZ twins, because it is held that both types of twins have
equally similar environments. However, if MZ twins share more similar environments than DZ
twins these assumptions are not valid. The equal environments assumption has been questioned
with the suggestion that the increased physical similarities seen in MZ twins lead to them being
treated more similarly than DZ twins. Support for this suggestion comes from noting that MZ twins
are more likely to be dressed the same and to share bedrooms than are DZ twins (Loehlin &
Nicholls, 1976). Despite these dierences, the aspects of the environment that dier by zygosity
do not appear to be those that have much eect on psychopathology concordance (Rutter et al.,
1990). Furthermore, the nding that MZ twins are treated more similarly than DZ twins on certain
traits may not be a serious problem for twin research, as when MZ twins are treated more
similarly than DZ twins this appears to be due to their increased genetic resemblance. For
example, research demonstrates that MZ twins mislabeled as DZ twins are treated as similarly as
correctly labeled MZ twins (e.g., Goodman & Stevenson, 1991). This suggests that zygosity
attribution alone does not lead to the more similar treatment of MZ compared to DZ twins.
The nal limitation to be addressed concerns generalizability. The results of twin studies are
applied to the non-twin population and for this to be acceptable, twins must be similar to non-
twins. However, the literature emphasizes certain ways in which twins dier from non-twins.
Specically, twins are more likely to be born prematurely, weigh less at birth, and to develop
language later (MacGillivray, Campbell, & Thompson, 1988; Rutter, Thorpe, Greenwood,
Northstone, & Golding, 2003). Twins may also have older mothers, be more likely to be born as a
result of in vitro fertilization and have mothers who are more likely to experience depression
following their birth as compared to singletons (Capron, Vetta, Duyme, & Vetta, 1999; Thorpe,
Golding, MacGillivray, & Greenwood, 1991). Despite these dierences, literature focusing upon
psychopathologies typically emphasizes ways in which twins and non-twins are similar (e.g.,
Ehringer, Rhee, Young, Corley, & Hewitt, 2006). Whereas some of these potential limitations
results in an inated estimation of heritability, others result in a decreased estimation of
heritability—and so long as heritability estimates are interpreted generally, we consider these
limitations acceptable.
Adoption studies, of which fewer focus upon childhood anxiety, compare biologically related and
biologically unrelated siblings or parent–child pairs allowing the comparison of environmental and
genetic inuences on phenotypes of interest. These studies have a dierent set of limitations,
three of which are outlined here. The rst limitation concerns the representativeness of families
involved in adoption. It is possible that families involved in adoption are not representative of the
general population (Stoolmiller, 1999)—suggesting that the results of adoption studies may not be
applicable to the general population. The second limitation concerns the assumption that
biological mothers are similar to their children for genetic but not environmental reasons.
However, biological mothers provide the child’s environment for 9 months, which could increase
their similarity beyond that produced by genetic factors. This would result in an articial ination of
genetic inuences. The nal limitation concerns the possibility of selective placement, whereby
adoptive families are matched on certain characteristics (e.g., SES, height, coloring etc) to
biological parents. Whilst this latter possibility would articially inate estimations of shared
environment for some traits, there is little evidence that this occurs for psychological traits such as
Despite their dierent set of limitations, twin and adoption studies have been fairly consistent in
showing that childhood anxiety is heritable and that both shared and non-shared environmental
factors may also play a role. The nding that shared environmental inuences may be important
is particularly noteworthy given the rarity with which this parameter is found for most other
behavioral disorders, in both children and adults. In particular, adult studies of anxiety disorders
have been notable in the lack of signicant inuence of shared environment (e.g., see Hettema,
Neale, & Kendler, 2001 for a review). This emphasizes the need for separate research into
anxiety disorders in children and adolescents, among whom the shared environment has been
demonstrated to be a signicant inuence.
Exploring sources of heterogeneity
Although it is possible to draw general conclusions about the relative magnitude of genetic and
environmental inuences on anxiety, it is important to note that there is a great deal of
heterogeneity in estimates stemming from dierent studies. This heterogeneity may come from
discrepancies between studies including dierences in (1) the phenotype under examination, and
(2) the demographics of the participants. These two sources of heterogeneity will be discussed in
The term ‘‘phenotype’’ refers to the observable characteristics of an organism. Twin and adoption
studies focusing upon anxiety have explored a wide range of dierent phenotypes (e.g., anxiety
of dierent types and severity) and this section presents results of these genetic studies.
Anxiety: Personality, Symptoms, or Disorders
Anxiety can be measured as a personality trait, in terms of symptoms or as a disorder. Twin
studies which have examined anxiety as a personality trait have demonstrated genetic inuence
on behavioral inhibition—which refers to fearful reaction when confronted with novelty (Robinson,
Kagan, Reznick, & Corley, 1992), fearfulness (see Goldsmith & Lemery, 2000), neuroticism
(Thapar & McGun, 1996), and shyness and emotionality (Saudino, Cherny, & Plomin, 2000). In
contrast to these twin studies, one adoption study employing parent-report, showed no evidence
for the heritability of emotionality in children aged between 1 and 7 years (Plomin, Coon, Carey,
DeFries, & Fulker, 1991)—although a subsequent adoption study of children aged 7 years old
provided evidence for the heritability of emotionality based on teacher reports (Schmitz, Saudino,
Plomin, Fulker, & DeFries, 1996). Studies examining symptoms of anxiety (Thapar & McGun,
1995; Topolski et al., 1997) and anxiety disorders (Bolton et al., 2006) in children also report
evidence for the heritability of these phenotypes.
Anxiety: Full-range vs. Extremes
Within studies focusing upon anxiety, it is possible to distinguish symptoms in the full range and
at the high extreme. Few studies have examined whether the heritability of childhood anxiety is
similar at the extremes as in the full-range, partly reecting the large sample-size necessary to
address this issue. The studies that have examined this issue demonstrate that heritability
estimates are similar in the full range as in the extremes for a range of dierent phenotypes
including fear and anxiety symptoms (e.g., Goldsmith & Lemery, 2000; Stevenson, Batten, &
Cherner, 1992). This suggests that vulnerability factors for anxiety may operate along a
continuum, and that anxiety disorders may simply be the extremes of quantitative traits. Further
research employing very large samples is necessary to conrm this tentative conclusion.
Anxiety: Dierent Types
In addition to acknowledging dierences between studies in the severity of anxiety, it is possible
to dierentiate various types of anxiety. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) distinguishes between anxiety disorders
including separation anxiety, panic, agoraphobia, specic phobia, social phobia, obsessive-
compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Given age
dierences in the onset of these dierent disorders (Kessler et al., 2005) much of the childhood
anxiety literature has focused upon diculties that typically begin in childhood—such as
separation anxiety (Eaves et al., 1997; Silberg, Rutter, & Eaves, 2001a; Topolski et al., 1997) and
specic phobias (Lichtenstein & Annas, 2000; Silberg et al., 2001a; Stevenson et al., 1992) as
well as general symptoms of anxiety (Eaves et al., 1997; Eley & Stevenson, 1999b; Thapar et al.,
1995; Topolski et al., 1997; Warren, Schmitz, & Emde, 1999). However, studies of children have
also highlighted the heritability of other types of anxiety including obsessive-compulsive behavior
(Hudziak et al., 2004). The aforementioned studies have typically focused on symptoms of
anxiety in the full-range rather than clinically signicant disorders reecting diculties associated
with obtaining large samples of twin pairs with psychiatric disorders.
Studies focusing upon dierent types of anxiety have yielded dierent conclusions. For example,
while symptoms of separation anxiety disorder are typically considered to be inuenced by
genetic, shared, and non-shared environmental factors (Eley et al., 2003; Feigon, Waldman,
Levy, & Hay, 2001; Silove, Manicavasagar, O’Connell, & Morris-Yates, 1995), symptoms of
overanxious disorder may be better explained by genetic and non-shared environmental factors
only (Eaves et al., 1997; Legrand, McGue, & Iacono, 1999). This pattern of results has not always
been reported. For example, one study of child and adolescent twins and their siblings found
evidence for shared environmental inuences on lifetime generalized anxiety disorder but not
separation anxiety disorder (Ehringer et al., 2006). A further study of 1887 female twin pairs aged
between 13 and 23 years used four dierent sets of criteria to classify separation anxiety disorder
(Cronk, Slutske, Madden, Bucholz, & Heath, 2004), nding that while there was robust evidence
for the heritability of separation anxiety disorder, shared environmental inuence was only
signicant for separation anxiety disorder dened in two out of the four ways.
Whilst it may be useful to dierentiate types of anxiety disorders in genetic research, research
with adult participants suggests that there are also good reasons for combining anxiety disorders
into a single group. For example, anxiety disorders show concurrent and longitudinal comorbidity
(Gregory et al., 2007) and there are similarities between anxiety disorders in terms of genetic
liability (Kendler, Prescott, Myers, & Neale, 2003), mental health histories (Gregory et al., 2007),
and factor structure (Krueger, 1999). As well as combining dierent types of anxiety, some
studies have gone further and examined anxiety with depression (combined into a single
phenotype), reecting the nding that parents typically have limited ability to distinguish between
anxiety and depression in their children (Achenbach, 1991). A number of studies examining this
combined phenotype and using dierent designs—namely, twin, adoption and sibling-cousin
designs—have indicated that additive genetic, shared-, and non-shared environmental factors are
all important inuences on this phenotype—although the magnitude of these inuences has
varied greatly between studies (van den Oord, Boomsma, & Verhulst, 1994; van den Oord &
Rowe, 1997; Edelbrock, Rende, Plomin, & Thompson, 1995). The variation in the estimates
between studies—particularly with regards to the signicance of the shared environmental inu-
ence—suggests that further research is needed before a strong conclusion can be drawn
concerning the magnitude of genetic, shared, and non-shared environmental inuences on the
anxious-depressed phenotype.
Anxiety: State vs. Trait
In addition to thinking of anxiety as an umbrella term encompassing a range of related yet distinct
diculties, further distinctions can be made—such as that between state and trait anxiety. State
anxiety refers to symptoms of anxiety that are transient and occur in response to threatening
events or situations. Trait anxiety, in contrast, refers to individual dierences in anxiety
responsiveness that are relatively stable over time and situation. The etiology of these dierent
types of anxiety was compared in a sample of 547 child and adolescent female twin pairs aged
10–18 years (Legrand et al., 1999). While there were genetic and non-shared environmental
inuences (but not shared environmental inuence) on trait anxiety, state anxiety was best
explained by shared and non-shared environmental inuences (without signicant genetic
inuence). The authors explain the latter result by speculating that the unique environment in
which participants completed their questionnaires (i.e., the laboratory) could have overpowered
genetic similarities. This pattern of results has since been largely replicated in another study of
497 pairs of both male and female twins aged 8–16 years. This study additionally demonstrated
that the co-occurrence between state and trait anxiety was mainly due to non-shared
environmental factors—although genetic and shared environmental factors also played a role
(Lau, Eley, & Stevenson, 2006).
Anxiety: Self vs. Parent Report
Dierences between studies in estimates of genetic and environmental inuences on childhood
anxiety may also reect who is rating the anxiety. Whereas some studies involve children
reporting upon their own symptoms of anxiety, others involve parents rating their children’s
anxiety symptoms. As regards rater, research shows that parent reports indicate that genetic
inuences are more important than shared environmental inuences on symptoms of childhood
anxiety, whereas self-reports produce slightly lower estimates of genetic inuences and higher
shared environmental inuence (Eaves et al., 1997; Thapar et al., 1995). One explanation for the
discrepancy between self-and parent-rated anxiety is that parents may be rating enduring traits
(they are assimilating information collected over a long period of time), whereas children may be
reporting upon a current state.
In order to test this hypothesis, repeated assessments were made of parent-and self-rated
anxiety in 1337 Caucasian child and adolescent twin pairs (Topolski et al., 1999). Overall the
prediction that children were rating states and parents were rating traits was largely disconrmed.
Indeed, over time, parent’s reports of their children’s anxiety were not much more stable than
children’s self-reports of their own anxiety. This study also highlighted a number of interesting
ndings with regards to the components contributing to temporal stability between dierent
informants, such as the nding that the stability of anxiety assessed by children’s self-reports was
largely due to environmental factors, whereas stability assessed using parent reports was
primarily due to genetic factors. Furthermore, important gender dierences were reported. For
example, it was found that the genetic covariance between boys and their parents was near zero,
suggesting that boys were reporting genetically dierent aspects of anxiety from their parents.
This contrasted with stronger genetic correlations between girls and their parents, suggesting that
parents and their daughters are reporting upon similar genetically inuenced aspects of anxiety.
The nding that parent-report data produce greater genetic inuence than self-report data has
been found for other phenotypes (e.g., sleep problems, Gregory, Rijsdijk, & Eley, 2006).
However, this nding is interesting considering that having one parent rate two children would be
expected to inate the shared environment (inate both the MZ and DZ correlations) rather than
the genetic parameter. However, it is possible that parents may be exaggerating dierences
between DZ twins (contrast eects) or accentuating similarity between MZ twins (assimilation
eects). Data compatible with this proposal come from studies examining parental ratings of
temperament in twins—which have produced an unusual pattern of results, whereby MZ correla-
tions are typically moderate, and DZ correlations are very low or negative (Plomin et al., 1993;
Stevenson & Fielding, 1985)—a phenomenon referred to as the ‘‘too low’’ DZ correlation. This
pattern of results is also consistent with dominant genetic variance. In order to examine whether
contrast eects, assimilation eects, or dominant genetic variance best explains the ‘‘too low’’ DZ
correlation, one study examined parent-reports of temperaments, including emotionality and
shyness, in 196 twin pairs aged 14– 36 months (Saudino et al., 2000). It was found that the data
were best explained by a model including contrast eects—suggesting that parents may
exaggerate dierences in temperaments between twins—especially when the twins are DZ.
Another interesting nding concerning rater effects is that there may be dierences between
mothers and fathers’ reports, in that whilst both parents assess the same behavior in the child,
each parent may also assess a unique aspect of the child’s behavior. This hypothesis was tested
against the alternative hypothesis that both parents assess exactly the same behavior in the child
(van der Valk, van den Oord, Verhulst, & Boomsma, 2001). Mother and father reports of CBCL
internalizing problems (a composite of anxious and withdrawn/depressed subscales) were
obtained for 3501 3-year-old twin pairs, and it was found that in addition to shared views
concerning their children’s behavior, each parent additionally provides information from his/her
own point of view.
Overall, these studies point to the sensitivity of genetic research to uctuations in the phenotype
being examined. This emphasizes the importance of including precise measures of anxiety in
genetic studies, suggesting that further research into the measurement of childhood anxiety is
likely to prove fruitful in advancing knowledge of genetic inuences on childhood anxiety.
Further explanations for dierences in estimates of genetic, shared, and non-shared
environmental inuences on anxiety include dierences between studies in terms of age and sex
of the participants. Age dierences between studies have produced mixed results with studies
showing that increased age results in heritability increasing (e.g., Feigon et al., 2001)—although
not all studies have found this (e.g., Legrand et al., 1999). Developmental shifts in genetic
inuences are likely to be due to genes being ‘‘switched on’’ (functioning) and ‘‘switched o’’ (not
functioning) at dierent stages of development—and studies focusing upon gene expression are
likely to be key in elucidating the complexities of developmental changes in genetic inuences.
Compared with age dierences, sex dierences are more consistent, with studies showing
greater heritability of anxiety symptoms in girls than boys (e.g., Eaves et al., 1997; Feigon et al.,
Beyond Univariate Studies of Anxiety
There is no doubt that studies that have explored genetic and environmental inuences on
childhood anxiety have been informative. These studies demonstrate clearly that genes and the
environment play important roles in the etiology of childhood anxiety—underscoring the need to
further understand both types of process. However, it is now necessary to specify genes and
environmental factors inuencing childhood anxiety and to understand the processes by which
these inuences have their eects. Such information may eventually be useful in identifying those
at risk for anxiety disorders—as individuals will have ‘‘risk’’ genes before they develop symptoms
of a disorder. Furthermore, genetic information may be useful in tailoring preventions and
treatments for anxiety disorders—and research is currently underway in order to see whether
genotype is important in response to dierent treatments for reducing anxiety. Despite optimism,
it must be noted that strong arguments have been postulated suggesting that genetic information
may be more useful in elucidating the pathways by which genes inuence behaviors than by
identifying individuals most likely to benet from preventative techniques. For example, in his
book Genes and Behavior, Michael Rutter argues that targeting individuals for prevention on the
basis of specic genes is not feasible because of the large number of other risk factors
inuencing common disorders (Rutter, 2006). A review of the impressive literature documenting
environmental inuences is not central to this article. Instead, this section of the article will review
research aimed at identifying genes involved in anxiety. It will then discuss how acknowledging
comorbidity, the environment, and endophenotypes and risk pathways is likely to aid the search
for genes inuencing anxiety.
Molecular Genetics
While twin and adoption studies do not typically provide information as to the specic genes inu-
encing anxiety, molecular genetic techniques have begun to examine genes involved in anxiety.
The main methods used to identify gene-trait or gene-disorder relationships are linkage and
Linkage refers to a within-family technique in which the presence of a specic trait/disorder is
traced through a family alongside a particular section of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which also
occurs less frequently in individuals without the trait/disorder. This technique is powerful when
identifying single-gene disorders, such as Huntington’s disease, but lacks statistical power in
cases whereby multiple genes (or quantitative trait loci: QTL) are involved in the trait/disorder,
and no single gene is necessary or sucient to cause the disorder (Risch & Merikangas, 1996).
Anxiety is an example of a complex disorder, which is likely to involve multiple genes, each
having a small eect on levels of anxiety. Consequently linkage studies are of little use in
identifying genes involved in anxiety. Association provides a more powerful technique for
identifying QTLs (Plomin, Owen, & McGun, 1994; Risch et al., 1996). This method compares
allele frequencies in cases and controls—with a signicant dierence implying that the genotype
is related to the phenotype dierentiating the cases and controls. Hence association studies are
more useful in highlighting genes inuencing anxiety.
The major focus of molecular genetic association studies in anxiety has been serotonin markers
(sequences of DNA). Serotonin contributes to variation in many physiological functions such as
food intake, sleep, motor activity, and reproductive activity in addition to emotional states
including mood and anxiety, and is the target of uptake-inhibiting antidepressant and anxiolytic
(anxiety relieving) drugs. In addition to serotonin markers, three other types of candidate genes
have attracted particular interest in the area of anxiety disorders. These are dopamine genes,
catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), and the corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH)/corti-
cotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) genes.
Although the genome (entire sequence of DNA) is 99% similar for all humans, there are certain
differences in DNA sequences between individuals. For example, it is common for sections of
DNA to be consecutively repeated—and the number of repeats may vary between individuals (a
phenomenon known as variable number of tandem repeats). In certain sections of the genome
there are systematic dierences between people in terms of number of repeats—and individuals
with a higher number of repeats can be considered as having a ‘‘long’’ version of a marker,
whereas those with fewer repeats may be considered as having a ‘‘short’’ version of the marker.
An early report with regards to serotonin genes and anxiety demonstrated an association
between the short form of a marker in the promoter region (that involved in activation or
suppression of a gene) of the serotonin transporter (5-HTT) and three anxiety-related personality
scales: neuroticism, tension, and harm avoidance in adults (Lesch et al., 1996). Although there
have been replications of this nding (e.g., Greenberg et al., 2000) not all attempts at replication
have been successful (e.g., Ball et al., 1997). Similarly, there are mixed ndings in children. For
example, one study reported that having two copies of the short 5-HTT allele was associated with
shyness in third and fourth grade Caucasian children (Battaglia et al., 2005). In contrast, another
study reported that the long version of the 5-HTT allele was associated with shyness (Arbelle et
al., 2003). Further studies have reported no association between the 5-HTT gene and shyness
(Schmidt, Fox, Rubin, Hu, & Hamer, 2002) or anxiety/depression (Young, Smolen, Stallings,
Corley, & Hewitt, 2003).
With regards to dopamine (a neurotransmitter which is central to the reward system), the
dopamine receptor DRD4 has received particular attention. Initial reports demonstrated that there
was an association between the long (7-repeat) allele and novelty seeking behavior (Benjamin et
al., 1996; Ebstein et al., 1996)—although not all studies have found this association (e.g., see
Savitz & Ramesar, 2004 for a review). Further mixed evidence has been found for studies
highlighting the DRD4 2-repeat allele in association with anxiety—the results of one study
suggest a possible protective eect for the DRD4 2repeat allele for OCD (Millet et al., 2003),
whereas the results of another study suggest that the 2-repeat allele is associated with avoidant
and obsessive personality (Joyce et al., 2003). Although much of the genetic research focusing
upon dopamine genes and anxiety has focused upon adult participants, studies have also
investigated associations in children—with one study revealing a combined eect of the 7-repeat
DRD4 allele and two copies of the short form of allele in the promoter region of the serotonin
transporter on infants responses to an anxiety provoking situation (Lakatos et al., 2003).
COMT is an enzyme involved in the inactivation of chemical compounds within both the serotonin
and dopamine pathways, making it a clear candidate for exploration in genetic studies of anxiety.
In addition to variable number of tandem repeats accounting for genetic dierences between
individuals, more commonly, changes in single nucleotides (structural units of DNA) account for
dierences between individuals. Such dierences are referred to as single nucleotide
polymorphisms (SNPs). One such polymorphism is in the COMT gene, whereby there is a
substitution of one amino acid (methione) for another (valine). The Val allele—with its higher
levels of prefrontal dopamine catabolism—has been associated with anxiety disorders including
phobias (McGrath et al., 2004). However, another study reported the converse nding—linking
the low activity Met allele with OCD in males (Karayiorgou et al., 1997).
Finally, CRH is central to the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis which is involved in
reactions to stress—and the co-regulation of CRH and adrenal and pituitary hormones has been
linked to ones ability to anticipate, adapt, or cope with impending future events, and resultant fear
and anxiety (Schulkin, Gold, & McEwen, 1998). Although studies with mice have clearly
demonstrated links between CRH and anxiety (see Bakshi & Kalin, 2000 for a review), research
focusing upon human adult participants is more mixed. For example, one study of 85 families
reported an association between a variant of the CRH gene and behavioral inhibition (Smoller et
al., 2003). In contrast to this signicant result, another study, examining the association between
a CRH receptor and neuroticism did not nd an association (Tochigi et al., 2006). In addition to
the associations reported here, there are data linking further polymorphisms to anxiety. For
example, a polymorphism in the brain derived neurotrophic factor gene has been associated with
anxiety (e.g., for a recent mouse study see Chen et al., 2006).
Although there is now a proliferation of studies attempting to pin-point specic genes involved in
the development and maintenance of anxiety, progress in nding genes has been slower than
expected, reecting the likelihood that many genes of small eect size (as opposed to fewer
genes of large eect size) are likely to inuence childhood anxiety. Three types of research are
likely to be particularly useful in helping molecular geneticists discover further genes that play a
role in anxiety. Genetic studies of comorbidity; genetic studies including measures of the environ-
ment; and those of endophenotypes and risk pathways will be discussed in turn.
Twin studies of comorbidity can help with the search for genes inuencing anxiety. These studies
compare the cross-twin cross-trait correlations (e.g., the association between anxiety in twin 1
and depression in twin 2) for MZ and DZ twin pairs. This information can be used to calculate the
proportion of the association between traits which is due to genes and environmental factors; and
the extent to which the genes inuencing one trait (e.g., anxiety) are the same as those
inuencing another trait (e.g., depression). If research reveals that dierent disorders are
inuenced by the same set of genes, this means that once genes associated with one diculty
are identied, it may be worth examining whether these genes are associated with the other
disorder. Conversely, if there is negligible overlap between the genes inuencing dierent
phenotypes, this may also be informative in the hunt for genes in that genes for the dierent
phenotypes are likely to be distinct. A study of over 4000 twin pairs aged 4 years explored the
associations between dierent symptoms of anxiety (general distress, separation anxiety, fears,
obsessive compulsive behaviors, and shyness and inhibition) (Eley et al., 2003). Overall, there
were modest genetic correlations between the ve types of anxiety symptoms, although the
genetic overlap was stronger between some types of anxiety (general distress showed the
strongest genetic correlations with other types of anxiety) than others (obsessive compulsive
symptoms showed the weakest genetic correlations with other types of anxiety). The shared
environmental correlations were also substantial and explained a large proportion of certain
associations (e.g., shared environmental inuences accounted for 78% of the association
between separation anxiety and obsessive compulsive symptoms).
Studies have also examined the association between childhood anxiety and other types of
symptoms/disorders. Initial studies of this type focused upon depression, reecting the high levels
of overlap between anxiety and depression in childhood (Angold, Costello, & Erkanli, 1999; Brady
& Kendall, 1992; Kovacs & Devlin, 1998). These studies have been consistent in demonstrating
that much of the overlap between these phenotypes can be explained by genetic factors (Eley &
Stevenson, 1999a; Nelson et al., 2000; Thapar & McGun, 1997). In addition to focusing on
concurrent comorbidity, studies have also addressed the issue of successive comorbidity
(whereby disorders occur at dierent times throughout the lifecourse). One such study
demonstrated that whereas symptoms of overanxious disorder experienced early in life (8–13
years) were inuenced by the same genes as symptoms of depression experienced later in life
(14–17 years), separation anxiety symptoms were inuenced by the same environmental risk that
inuenced later depression (Silberg et al., 2001).
Acknowledging the fact that childhood anxiety also co-occurs with other behavioral and emotional
problems (Angold et al., 1999), twin studies are beginning to explore the links between anxiety
and a whole host of dierent symptoms and disorders. For example, our team has become
interested in the links between common sleep problems and anxiety, which co-occur both
concurrently (Garland, 2001) and longitudinally (Gregory et al., 2005a). Our research suggests
that the association between sleep problems and anxiety may be largely mediated by shared
environmental inuences in pre-school aged children (e.g., Gregory, Eley, O’Connor, Rijsdijk, &
Plomin, 2005b; see also van den Oord, Boomsma, & Verhulst, 2000). We have also examined a
range of ‘‘family factors’’ in order to see which variables were likely to be most important, nding
that family chaos and maternal depression were associated with both sleep problems and anxiety
and may account for some of the association between these diculties (e.g., Gregory et al.,
2005b). An important role for shared environment has also been found when examining the
overlap between anxiety and conduct problems in pre-school aged children (Gregory, Eley, &
Plomin, 2004). Longitudinal links between anxiety and eating disorders have also been explored
in juvenile twin girls (Silberg & Bulik, 2005)—with some evidence for genetic inuences on anxiety
and eating disorders throughout development—in addition to other patterns of inuences (e.g.,
there was a shared environmental inuence on persistent separation anxiety and eating disorders
in late adolescence).
The Environment
As well as the ability of studies of comorbidity to inform the hunt for genes, perhaps surprisingly,
including measures of the environment in genetic studies may facilitate the identication of
specic genes involved in the onset and maintenance of various phenotypes (Mott, Caspi, &
Rutter, 2005). Indeed, research examining diverse phenotypes including antisocial behavior,
depression, and schizophrenia has revealed that the associations between specic genes and
disorders are stronger in certain environmental conditions than others (e.g., see Caspi et al.,
2002, 2003, 2005). Although there has been little research exploring possible gene–
environmental interactions for anxiety, one study demonstrated that genetic inuences on anxiety
inuenced sensitivity toward negative life events in female twins aged 14–17 years of age
(Silberg, Rutter, Neale, & Eaves, 2001b; see also, Eaves, Silberg, & Erkanli, 2003). Furthermore,
a recent study demonstrated a gene–environment interaction in predicting observed behavioral
inhibition and mother-reported shyness in children (Fox et al., 2005). Specically, the short 5-HTT
allele predicted shyness and behavioral inhibition in children whose families reported low levels of
social support but not in those who did not. Despite these positive ndings, overall there has been
relatively little evidence of gene– environment interactions predicting anxiety [e.g., Kendler, Kuhn,
Vittum, Prescott, and Riley (2005) did not nd evidence of a gene–environment interaction for
Generalized Anxiety Disorder in adults]. Future research may benet from further consideration of
the measurement and conceptualization of environmental variables as research has highlighted
associations between specic types of environmental events (e.g., threatening life events as
opposed to loss life events) and anxiety (Finlay-Jones & Brown, 1981). Furthermore, the timing of
life events may be relevant—and it is possible to hypothesize that recent environmental
inuences may be more likely to elicit anxiety as compared to life events occurring in the distant
‘‘Endophenotypes’’ and Risk Pathways
Relatively slow progress in nding genes involved in symptoms and disorders such as anxiety
has also resulted in researchers attempting to identify ‘‘endophenotypes,’’ which are intermediate
phenotypes that are more proximal to the genes inuencing a disorder than its signs and
symptoms, and can be considered risk markers of a disorder (Gottesman & Gould, 2003).
Potential endophenotypes may be neurophysiological, biochemical, endocrinological,
neuroanatomical, cognitive and neuropsychological. Focusing upon endophenotypes has certain
advantages over studying phenotypes (e.g., anxiety) directly. For example, focusing upon
endophenotypes may provide more statistical power to identify genes than does focusing upon
phenotypes; and endophenotype research can help to elucidate the pathways by which genes
inuence behaviors. There has been little endophenotype research in relation to childhood
anxiety, which led our team to include measures of cognition (which have previously been linked
to the development of anxiety and which may be potential markers of risk) in a study of anxiety in
8-year-old twins. One key paper resulting from this study focused upon the links between
panic/somatic symptoms of anxiety and anxiety sensitivity (fear of the physical sensations of
anxiety). Anxiety sensitivity has previously been demonstrated to predict panic symptoms
(Calamari et al., 2001) and has been shown to be heritable in an adult study of twins (Stein, Jang,
& Livesley, 1999). Our analyses revealed that anxiety sensitivity was also heritable in our sample
of 8 year olds, and that there is strong genetic overlap with panic/somatic symptoms (suggesting
that the same genes that inuence anxiety sensitivity may also inuence panic/somatic
symptoms) (Eley, Gregory, Clark, & Ehlers, 2007). These preliminary results suggest that anxiety
sensitivity could be a potential endophenotype for childhood panic/somatic symptoms in
molecular genetic research—although as with other novel ndings, the need for replication of
these results is clear.
Further understanding of the pathways by which genes inuence behaviors is essential. Such
genetic research has focused on the brain, reecting the nding that 70% of genes are expressed
in the brain. Pioneering research by Ahmad Hariri and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh
demonstrated that the short allele of the 5-HTT promoter polymorphism was associated with
greater neuronal activity in the amygdala in response to fearful stimuli (Hariri et al., 2002)—a
nding that has since been well-replicated by dierent research groups (Bertolino et al., 2005;
Furmark et al., 2004; Hariri et al., 2005; Heinz et al., 2005). Although much of this research has
focused upon adults, a recent study of children aged 8–9 years of age demonstrated that the
short allele of the 5HTT polymorphism was associated with a smaller cerebral visual event related
potential following exposure to hostile and neutral faces (Battaglia et al., 2005). As decreased
activity in the visual cortices may co-occur with increased amygdala activation (e.g., Reiman,
1997) these results chime well with the association between the short allele of the 5-HTT
polymorphism and amygdala activity in response to threat stimuli in adults (Hariri et al., 2002).
Further research of this type in children with anxiety or at high risk for anxiety is likely to shed
further light on the developmental processes by which genes inuence anxiety.
The mass of evidence collated thus far shows, clearly, that genes inuence individual dierences
in levels of anxiety among children. Similarly, it is clear that environmental factors are at least of
equal importance. Although individual studies leading to these conclusions may be limited in their
reliance on single-sex twin pairs, a small sample size or restricted ethnicity for example, the
overall convergence between dierent studies is reassuring. The acceptance of the general
conclusions that both genes and environmental factors inuence childhood anxiety, has led
researchers to attempt to specify genes and environmental inuences. Despite various important
discoveries (e.g., the replicated association between the serotonin transporter gene and anxiety),
overall, the hunt for genes inuencing anxiety has progressed at a slower pace than initially
anticipated, mainly due to the involvement of multiple genes of small eect size. In order to
facilitate the search for genes, molecular geneticists are paying attention to studies of
comorbidity, which can help identify candidate genes for further investigation. Furthermore, the
realization that genes and the environment are associated, has increased collaboration between
researchers from dierent disciplines and has resulted in the incorporation of measures of the
environment in genetic research and vice versa. Complex questions concerning the mechanisms
by which genes and features of the environment inuence childhood anxiety are also now being
addressed, and endophenotypes are being identied which will further aid the search for genes
involved in childhood anxiety—as well as help to elucidate the pathways from genes to behavior.
The future promises further integration of research, including links between gene–environmental
interactions and neuroscience (see Caspi & Mott, 2006)—and researchers will continue to
explore the genetics of anxiety in diverse samples across the lifespan. Altogether, by taking a
truly interdisciplinary approach to understanding the genetics of anxiety, this research may take
us closer still to our goal of preventing and treating high levels of anxiety in children.
Thalia C. Eley is funded by a Medical Research Council Career Development Award. The authors
thank Megan Crawford for her assistance in preparing this article.
Achenbach, T. M. (1991). Manual for the child behaviour checklist and 1991 prole, Vermont,
Burlington: University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry.
Adegbite, A. L., Castille, S., Ward, S., and Bajoria, R. (2004). Neuromorbidity in preterm twins in
relation to chorionicity and discordant birth weight. American Journal of Obstetrics and
Gynecology 190: 156–163.
American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.
Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Angold, A., Costello, E., and Erkanli, A. (1999). Comorbidity. Journal of Child Psychology &
Psychiatry 40: 57–87.
Arbelle, S., Benjamin, J., Golin, M., Kremer, I., Belmaker, R. H., and Ebstein, R. P. (2003).
Relation of shyness in grade school children to the genotype for the long form of the serotonin
transporter promoter region polymorphism. American Journal of Psychiatry 160: 671–676.
Bakshi, V. P., and Kalin, N. H. (2000). Corticotropin-releasing hormone and animal models of
anxiety: Gene-environment interactions. Biological Psychiatry 48: 1175–1198.
Ball, D. M., Hill, L., Freeman, B., Eley, T. C., Strelau, J. Riemann, R. et al. (1997). The serotonin
transporter gene and peer-rated neuroticism. NeuroReport 8: 1301–1304.
Battaglia, M., Ogliari, A., Zanoni, A., Citterio, A., Pozzoli, U. Giorda, R. et al. (2005). Inuence of
the serotonin transporter promoter gene and shyness on children’s cerebral responses to facial
expressions. Archives of General Psychiatry 62: 85–94.
Benjamin, J., Li, L., Patterson, C., Greenburg, B. D., Murphy, D. L., and Hamer, D. H. (1996).
Population and familial association between the D4 dopamine receptor gene and measures of
novelty seeking. Nature Genetics 12: 81–84.
Bertolino, A., Arciero, G., Rubino, V., Latorre, V., De Candia, M. Mazzola, V. et al. (2005).
Variation of human amygdala response during threatening stimuli as a function of 5¢ HTTLPR
genotype and personality style. Biological Psychiatry 57: 1517–1525.
Biederman, J., Rosenbaum, J. F., Bolduc, E. A., Faraone, S. V., and Hirshfeld, D. R. (1991). A
high risk study of young children of parents with panic disorder and agoraphobia with and without
comorbid major depression. Psychiatry Research 37: 333–348.
Bolton, D., Eley, T. C., O’Connor, T. G., Perrin, S., Rabe-Hesketh, S. Rijsdijk, F. et al. (2006).
Prevalence and genetic and environmental inuences on anxiety disorders in 6-year-old twins.
Psychological Medicine 36: 335–344.
Brady, E. U., and Kendall, P. C. (1992). Comorbidity of anxiety in children and adolescents.
Psychological Bulletin 111: 244–255.
Calamari, J. E., Hale, L. R., Heelnger, S. K., Janeck, A. S., Lau, J. J. Weerts, M. A. et al.
(2001). Relations between anxiety sensitivity and panic symptoms in nonreferred children and
adolescents. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry 32: 117–136.
Capron, C., Vetta, A. R., Duyme, M., and Vetta, A. (1999). Misconceptions of biometrical IQists.
Cahiers de Psychologie Cognitive-Current Psychology of Cognition 18: 115–160.
Cartwright-Hatton, S., McNicol, K., and Doubleday, E. (2006). Anxiety in a neglected population:
Prevalence of anxiety disorders in pre-adolescent children. Clinical Psychology Review 26: 817–
Caspi, A., McClay, J., Mott, T. E., Mill, J., Martin, J. Craig, I. W. et al. (2002). Role of genotype
in the cycle of violence in maltreated children. Science 297: 851–854.
Caspi, A., and Mott, T. E. (2006). Opinion – gene-environment interactions in psychiatry:
Joining forces with neuroscience. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 7: 583–590.
Caspi, A., Mott, T. E., Cannon, M., McClay, J., Murray, R. Harrington, H. et al. (2005).
Moderation of the eect of adolescent-onset cannabis use on adult psychosis by a functional
polymorphism in the catechol-O-methyltransferase gene: Longitudinal evidence of a gene X
environment interaction. Biological Psychiatry 57: 1117–1127
Caspi, A., Sugden, K., Mott, T. E., Taylor, A., Craig, I. W. Harrington, H. et al. (2003). Inuence
of life stress on depression: Moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science 301:
Chen, Z. Y., Jing, D. Q., Bath, K. G., Ieraci, A., Khan, T. Siao, C. J. et al. (2006). Genetic variant
BDNF (Val66Met) polymorphism alters anxiety-related behavior. Science 314: 140–143.
Cronk, N. J., Slutske, W. S., Madden, P. A. F., Bucholz, K. K., and Heath, A. C. (2004). Risk for
separation anxiety disorder among girls: Paternal absence, socioeconomic disadvantage, and
genetic vulnerability. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 113: 237–247.
Eaves, L., Silberg, J., and Erkanli, A. (2003). Resolving multiple epigenetic pathways to
adolescent depression. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 44: 1006–1014.
Eaves, L. J., Silberg, J. L., Meyer, J. M., Maes, H. H., Simono, E. Pickles, A. et al. (1997).
Genetics and developmental psychopathology: 2. The main eects of genes and environment on
behavioral problems in the Virginia Twin study of adolescent behavioral development. Journal of
Child Psychology and Psychiatry 38: 965–980.
Ebstein, R. P., Novick, O., Umansky, R., Priel, B., Osher, Y. Blaine, D. et al. (1996). Dopamine
D4 receptor (D4DR) exon III polymorphism associated with the human personality trait novelty-
seeking. Nature Genetics 12: 78–80.
Edelbrock, C., Rende, R. D., Plomin, R., and Thompson, L. A. (1995). A twin study of
competence and problem behavior in childhood and early adolescence. Journal of Child
Psychology and Psychiatry 36: 775–785.
Ehringer, M. A., Rhee, S. H., Young, S., Corley, R., and Hewitt, J. K. (2006). Genetic and
environmental contributions to common psychopathologies of childhood and adolescence: A
study of twins and their siblings. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 34: 1–17.
Eley, T. C. (1999). Behavioral genetics as a tool for developmental psychology: Anxiety and
depression in children and adolescents. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 2: 21–36.
Eley, T. C., Bolton, D., Oonnor, T. G., Perrin, S., Smith, P., and Plomin, R. (2003). A twin study of
anxiety-related behaviours in pre-school children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 44:
Eley, T. C., Gregory, A. M., Clark, D. M., & Ehlers, A. (2007). Feeling anxious: A twin study of
panic/somatic symptoms, anxiety sensitivity and heart-beat perception in children. Journal of
Child Psychology and Psychiatry (submitted).
Eley, T. C., and Stevenson, J. (1999). Exploring the covariation between anxiety and depression
symptoms: A genetic analysis of the eects of age and sex. Journal of Child Psychology and
Psychiatry 40: 1273–1284.
Eley, T. C., and Stevenson, J. (1999). Using genetic analyses to clarify the distinction between
depressive and anxious symptoms in children and adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Child
Psychology 27: 105–114.
Feigon, S. A., Waldman, I. D., Levy, F., and Hay, A. D. (2001). Genetic and environmental
inuences on separation anxiety disorder symptoms and their moderation by age and sex.
Behavior Genetics 31: 403–411.
Finlay-Jones, R., and Brown, G. W. (1981). Types of stressful life events and the onset of anxiety
and depressive disorders. Psychological Medicine 11: 803–815.
Fox, N. A., Nichols, K. E., Henderson, H. A., Rubin, K., Schmidt, L. Hamer, D. et al. (2005).
Evidence for a gene-environment interaction in predicting behavioral inhibition in middle
childhood. Psychological Science 16: 921–926.
Furmark, T., Tillfors, M., Garpenstrand, H., Marteinsdottir, I., Langstrom, B. Oreland, L. et
al. (2004). Serotonin transporter polymorphism related to amygdala excitability and symptom
severity in patients with social phobia. Neuroscience Letters 362: 189–192.
Garland, J. E. (2001). Sleep disturbances in anxious children. In G. Stores & L. Wiggs (Eds.),
Sleep disturbance in children and adolescents with disorders of development: Its signicance and
management (pp. 155–160). London: Mac Keith Press.
Goldsmith, H. H., and Lemery, K. S. (2000). Linking temperamental fearfulness and anxiety
symptoms: A behavior-genetic perspective. Biological Psychiatry 48: 1199–1209.
Goodman, R., and Stevenson, J. (1991). Parental criticism and warmth toward unrecognised
monozygotic twins. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 14: 394–395.
Gottesman, I. I., and Gould, T. D. (2003). The endophenotype concept in psychiatry: Etymology
and strategic intentions. American Journal of Psychiatry 160: 636–645.
Greenberg, B. D., Li, Q., Lucas, F. R., Hu, S., Sirota, L. A. Benjamin, J. et al. (2000). Association
between the serotonin transporter promoter polymorphism and personality traits in a primarily
female population sample. American Journal of Medical Genetics 96: 202–216.
Gregory, A. M., Caspi, A., Eley, T. C., Mott, T. E., Oonnor, T. G., and Poulton, R. (2005).
Prospective longitudinal associations between persistent sleep problems in childhood and anxiety
and depression disorders in adulthood. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 33: 157–163.
Gregory, A. M., Caspi, A., Mott, T. E., Koenen, K., Eley, T. C., and Poulton, R. (2007). Juvenile
mental health histories of adults with anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry 164:
Gregory, A. M., Eley, T. C., O’Connor, T. G., Rijsdijk, F. V., and Plomin, R. (2005). Family
inuences on the association between sleep problems and anxiety in a large sample of preschool
aged twins. Personality and Individual Dierences 39: 1337–1348.
Gregory, A. M., Eley, T. C., and Plomin, R. (2004). Exploring the association between anxiety and
conduct problems in a large sample of twins aged 2-4. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 32:
Gregory, A. M., Rijsdijk, F. V., and Eley, T. C. (2006). A twin-study of sleep diculties in school-
aged children. Child Development 77: 1668–1679.
Hariri, A. R., Drabant, E. M., Munoz, K. E., Kolachana, L. S., Mattay, V. S. Egan, M. F. et al.
(2005). A susceptibility gene for aective disorders and the response of the human amygdala.
Archives of General Psychiatry 62: 146–152.
Hariri, A. R., Mattay, V. S., Tessitore, A., Kolachana, B., Fera, F. Goldman, D. et al. (2002).
Serotonin transporter genetic variation and the response of the human amygdala. Science 297:
Heinz, A., Braus, D. F., Smolka, M. N., Wrase, J., Puls, I. Hermann, D. et al. (2005). Amygdala-
prefrontal coupling depends on a genetic variation of the serotonin transporter. Nature
Neuroscience 8: 20–21.
Hettema, J. M., Neale, M. C., and Kendler, K. S. (2001). A review and meta-analysis of the
genetic epidemiology of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry 158: 1568–1578.
Hudziak, J. J., Van Beijsterveldt, C. E. M., Altho, R. R., Stanger, C., Rettew, D. C. Nelson, E. C.
et al. (2004). Genetic and environmental contributions to the child behavior checklist obsessive-
compulsive scale – a cross-cultural twin study. Archives of General Psychiatry 61: 608–616.
Joyce, P. R., Rogers, G. R., Miller, A. L., Mulder, R. T., Luty, S. E., and Kennedy, M. A. (2003).
Polymorphisms of DRD4 and DRD3 and risk of avoidant and obsessive personality traits and
disorders. Psychiatry Research 119: 1–10.
Karayiorgou, M., Altemus, M., Galke, B. L., Goldman, D., Murphy, D. L. Ott, J. et al. (1997).
Genotype determining low catechol-O-methyltransferase activity as a risk factor for obsessive-
compulsive disorder. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of
America 94: 4572– 4575.
Kendler, K. S., Kuhn, J. W., Vittum, J., Prescott, C. A., and Riley, B. (2005). The interaction of
stressful life events and a serotonin transporter polymorphism in the prediction of episodes of
major depression – a replication. Archives of General Psychiatry 62: 529–535.
Kendler, K. S., Prescott, C. A., Myers, J., and Neale, M. C. (2003). The structure of genetic and
environmental risk factors for common psychiatric and substance use disorders in men and
women. Archives of General Psychiatry 60: 929–937.
Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., and Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence
and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication.
Archives of General Psychiatry 62: 593–602.
Kovacs, M.and Devlin, B. (1998). Internalizing disorders in childhood. Journal of Child Psychology
and Psychiatry 39: 47–63. Krueger, R. F. (1999). The structure of common mental disorders.
Archives of General Psychiatry 56: 921–926.
Lakatos, K., Nemoda, Z., Birkas, E., Ronai, Z., Kovacs, E. Ney, K. et al. (2003). Association of D4
dopamine receptor gene and serotonin transporter promoter polymorphisms with infants’
response to novelty. Molecular Psychiatry 8: 90–97
Last, C. G., Hersen, M., Kazdin, A. E., Orvaschel, H., and Perrin, S. (1991). Anxiety disorders in
children and their families. Archives of General Psychiatry 48: 928–934.
Lau, J. Y. F., Eley, T. C., and Stevenson, J. (2006). Examining the state-trait anxiety relationship:
A behavioural genetic approach. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 34: 19–27.
Legrand, L. N., McGue, M., and Iacono, W. G. (1999). A twin study of state and trait anxiety in
childhood and adolescence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 40: 953–958.
Lesch, K. P., Bengel, D., Heils, A., Zhang Sabol, S., Greenburg, B. D. Petri, S. et al. (1996).
Association of anxiety-related traits with a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene
regulatory region. Science 274: 1527–1531.
Lichtenstein, P., and Annas, P. (2000). Heritability and prevalence of specic fears and phobias in
childhood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 41: 927–937.
Loehlin, J. C., and Nicholls, J. (1976). Heredity, environment and personality, Austin: University of
MacGillivray, I., Campbell, D. M., and Thompson, B. (1988). Twinning and twins, Chichister:
Martin, N., Boomsma, D. I., and Machin, G. (1997). A twin-pronged attack on complex trait.
Nature Genetics 17: 387–392.
McGrath, M., Kawachi, I., Ascherio, A., Colditz, G. A., Hunter, D. J., and De Vivo, I. (2004).
Association between catechol-Omethyltransferase and phobic anxiety. American Journal of
Psychiatry 161: 1703–1705.
Millet, B., Chabane, N., Delorme, R., Leboyer, M., Leroy, S. Poirier, M. F. et al. (2003).
Association between the dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) gene and obsessive-compulsive
disorder. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B-Neuropsychiatric Genetics 116B: 55–59.
Mott, T. E., Caspi, A., and Rutter, M. (2005). Strategy for investigating interactions between
measured genes and measured environments. Archives of General Psychiatry 62: 473– 481.
Nelson, E. C., Grant, J. D., Bucholz, K. K., Glowinski, A., Madden, P. A. F. Reich, W. et al.
(2000). Social phobia in population-based female adolescent twin sample: Co-morbidity and
associated suicide-related symptoms. Psychological Medicine 30: 797–804.
Plomin, R., Coon, H., Carey, G., DeFries, J. C., and Fulker, D. W. (1991). Parent-ospring and
sibling adoption analyses of parental ratings of temperament in infancy and childhood. Journal of
Personality 59: 705–732.
Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., McClearn, G. E., and McGun, P. (2001). Behavioral genetics (4th
ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.
Plomin, R., Emde, R. N., Braungart, J. M., Campos, J., Corley, R. Fulker, D. W. et al. (1993).
Genetic change and continuity from fourteen to twenty months: The MacArthur longitudinal twin
study. Child Development 64: 1354–1376.
Plomin, R., Owen, M. J., and McGun, P. (1994). The genetic basis of complex human
behaviors. Science 264: 1733–1739.
Reiman, E. M. (1997). The application of positron emission tomography to the study of normal
and pathologic emotions. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 58: 4–12.
Risch, N., and Merikangas, K. R. (1996). The future of genetic studies of complex human
diseases. Science 273: 1516–1517.
Robinson, J. L., Kagan, J., Reznick, J. S., and Corley, R. (1992). The heritability of inhibited and
uninhibited behavior: A twin study. Developmental Psychology 28: 1030–1037.
Rutter, M. (2006). Genes and behavior, Oxford: Blackwell.
Rutter, M., Bolton, P., Harrington, R., Le Couteur, A., Macdonald, H., and Simono, E. (1990).
Genetic factors in child psychiatric disorders – I. A review of research strategies. Journal of Child
Psychology and Psychiatry 31: 3–37.
Rutter, M., Thorpe, K., Greenwood, R., Northstone, K., and Golding, J. (2003). Twins as a natural
experiment to study the causes of mild language delay: I: Design; twin-singleton dierences in
language, and obstetric risks. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 44: 326–341.
Saudino, K. J., Cherny, S. S., and Plomin, R. (2000). Parent ratings of temperament in twins:
Explaining the ‘too low’ DZ correlations. Twin Research 3: 224–233.
Savitz, J. B., and Ramesar, R. S. (2004). Genetic variants implicated in personality: A review of
the more promising candidates. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B-Neuropsychiatric
Genetics 131B: 20–32
Schmidt, L. A., Fox, N. A., Rubin, K. H., Hu, S., and Hamer, D. H. (2002). Molecular genetics of
shyness and aggression in preschoolers. Personality and Individual Dierences 33: 227–238.
Schmitz, S., Saudino, K. J., Plomin, R., Fulker, D. W., and DeFries, J. C. (1996). Genetic and
environmental inuences on temperament in middle childhood: Analyses of teacher and tester
ratings. Child Development 67: 409–422.
Schulkin, J., Gold, P. W., and McEwen, B. S. (1998). Induction of corticotropin-releasing hormone
gene expression by glucocorticoids: Implication for understanding the states of fear and anxiety
and allostatic load. Psychoneuroendocrinology 23: 219– 243.
Silberg, J. L., and Bulik, C. M. (2005). The developmental association between eating disorders
symptoms and symptoms of depression and anxiety in juvenile twin girls. Journal of Child
Psychology and Psychiatry 46: 1317–1326.
Silberg, J. L., Rutter, M., Neale, M., and Eaves, L. (2001). Genetic moderation of environmental
risk for depression and anxiety in adolescent girls. British Journal of Psychiatry 179: 116–121.
Silberg, J. L., Rutter, M., and Eaves, L. (2001). Genetic and environmental inuences on the
temporal association between earlier anxiety and later depression in girls. Biological Psychiatry
49: 1040–1049.
Silove, D., Manicavasagar, V., O’Connell, D., and Morris-Yates, A. (1995). Genetic factors in
early separation anxiety: Implications for the genesis of adult anxiety disorders. Acta Psychiatrica
Scandinavica 92: 17–24.
Smoller, J. W., Rosenbaum, J. F., Biederman, J., Kennedy, J., Dai, D. Racette, S. R. et al.
(2003). Association of a genetic marker at the corticotropin-releasing hormone locus with
behavioral inhibition. Biological Psychiatry 54: 1376–1381.
Stein, M. B., Jang, K. L., and Livesley, W. J. (1999). Heritability of anxiety sensitivity: A twin
study. American Journal of Psychiatry 156: 246–251.
Stevenson, J., Batten, N., and Cherner, M. (1992). Fears and fearfulness in children and
adolescents: A genetic analysis of twin data. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 33:
Stevenson, J., and Fielding, J. (1985). Ratings of temperament in families of young twins. British
Journal of Developmental Psychology 3: 143–152.
Stoolmiller, M. (1999). Implications of the restricted range of family environments for estimates of
heritability and nonshared environment in behavior-genetic adoption studies. Psychological
Bulletin 125: 392–409.
Thapar, A., and McGun, P. (1995). Are anxiety symptoms in childhood heritable? Journal of
Child Psychology and Psychiatry 36: 439–447.
Thapar, A. & McGun, P. (1996). A twin study of antisocial and neurotic symptoms in childhood.
Psychological Medicine, 26, 1111–1118.
Thapar, A., and McGun, P. (1997). Anxiety and depressive symptoms in childhood – a genetic
study of comorbidity. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 38: 651–656.
Thorpe, K., Golding, J., MacGillivray, I., and Greenwood, R. (1991). Comparison of prevalence of
depression in mothers of twins and mothers of singletons. British Medical Journal 302: 875–878.
Tochigi, M., Kato, C., Otowa, T., Hibino, H., Marui, T. Ohtani, T. et al. (2006). Association
between corticotropin-releasing hormone receptor 2 (CRHR2) gene polymorphism and
personality traits. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 60: 524–526.
Topolski, T. D., Hewitt, J. K., Eaves, L., Meyer, J. M., Silberg, J. L. Simono, E. et al. (1999).
Genetic and environmental inuences on ratings of manifest anxiety by parents and children.
Journal of Anxiety Disorders 13: 371–397.
Topolski, T. D., Hewitt, J. K., Eaves, L. J., Silberg, J. L., Meyer, J. M. Rutter, M. et al. (1997).
Genetic and environmental inuences on child reports of manifest anxiety and symptoms of
separation anxiety and overanxious disorders: A community-based twin study. Behavior Genetics
27: 15–28.
Turner, S. M., Beidel, D. C., and Costello, A. (1987). Psychopathology in the ospring of anxiety
disordered patients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 55: 229–235.
van den Oord, E. J. C. G., Boomsma, D. I., and Verhulst, F. C. (1994). A study of problem
behaviors in 10-to 15-year-old biologically related and unrelated international adoptees. Behavior
Genetics 24: 193–205.
van den Oord, E. J. C. G., Boomsma, D. I., and Verhulst, F. C. (2000). A study of genetic and
environmental eects on the cooccurrence of problem behaviors in three-year-old twins. Journal
of Abnormal Psychology 109: 360–372.
van den Oord, E. J. C. G., and Rowe, D. C. (1997). Continuity and change in children’s social
maladjustment: A developmental behavior genetic study. Developmental Psychology 33: 319–
van der Valk, J. C., van den Oord, E. J. C. G., Verhulst, F. C., and Boomsma, D. I. (2001). Using
parental ratings to study the etiology of 3-year-old twinsproblem behaviors: Dierent views or
rater bias? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 42: 921–931.
Warren, S. L., Schmitz, S., and Emde, R. (1999). Behavioral genetic analyses of self-reported
anxiety at 7 years of age. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
38: 1403–1408.
Weissman, M. M., Leckman, J. F., Merikangas, K. R., Gammon, G. D., and Pruso, B. A. (1984).
Depression and anxiety disorders in parents and children: Results from the Yale Family Study.
Archives of General Psychiatry 41: 845–852.
Young, S. E., Smolen, A., Stallings, M. C., Corley, R. P., and Hewitt, J. K. (2003). Sibling-based
association analyses of the serotonin transporter polymorphism and internalizing behavior
problems in children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 44: 961–967.
... The completion of the Human Genome Project has attracted intensive genetic research efforts (Gregory & Eley, 2007;. Gene by environment designs (also known as GxE) are utilized to understand how genes interact with environmental factors in predicting child psychosocial and behavioral development (Ottman, 1996). ...
Gene by Intervention (GxI) interaction studies examine how a person's genotype may moderate (i.e., increase or decrease benefit from) an intervention's impact, typically in the context of randomized controlled trials. This systematic review examines genetic moderation effects for psychosocial and behavioral interventions that are family‐based or school‐/individual‐based with family components. Differential susceptibility was the most widely used theory. All studies demonstrated significant GxI effects, but the large numbers of interventions and the fragmentary information provided by different genes limits the generalizability of conclusions. Future research should develop stronger biobehavioral theories, designs, and methodologie for studying genes in the family context. The GxI effects reviewed deepen our understanding of genetic moderation effects in intervention studies, provide implications for research by indicating who may benefit more from an intervention, and further guide efforts to personalize intervention programs to include elements to which people with certain genetic characteristics are more sensitive.
... One of the most widely studied risk factors for offspring development of anxiety is parental anxiety. Theoretical models propose that besides passing on genes, parents with an anxiety disorder might also pass on their fears and anxiety via environmental pathways (Gregory & Eley, 2007;Hettema et al., 2001;Hudson & Rapee, 2004;Murray et al., 2009;Percy et al., 2016). Parents with anxiety disorders are more likely to react to novelty with verbal and nonverbal expressions of anxiety. ...
Full-text available
Introduction: Theoretical and empirical evidence suggests that the effect of parental verbal threat information on the offspring's fear acquisition of novel stimuli may be causal. The current study investigated this verbal fear acquisition pathway from parents to children in the unique context of Covid-19 as a novel environmental threat for parents and children. Methods: Using an online cross-sectional survey, we collected data about fear of Covid-19, parent-child communication, parental anxiety, and child temperament, in the period between June 11th 2020 and May 28th 2021. Participants were 8 to 18-year-old children (N = 195; Mage = 14.23; 113 girls) and their parents (N = 193; Mage = 47.82; 146 mothers) living in the Netherlands. Results: Children of parents with stronger Covid-19 fears also reported stronger Covid-19 fears. Moreover, parents who were more fearful of Covid-19 provided more threat-related information about the virus to their children. More parental threat information in turn was related to stronger fear of Covid-19 in their children, and partly mediated the link between parent and child fear of the virus. The link between parental threat information and children's fear of Covid-19 was not moderated by child temperament or parental anxiety. Conclusions: Parental communication about Covid-19 may play a role in children's fear acquisition of Covid-19. The lack of moderation of this link by parental anxiety and child temperament may reflect the potentially adaptive nature of verbal fear transmission during the first year of the pandemic and the nonclinical levels of fear in this community sample.
... Social anxiety is a common response of primary school students to deterioration in the parent-child relationship and conflict [23]. Results from twins and family studies over the past three decades have confirmed that childhood social anxiety is influenced by both genetic factors [24], and parental factors, including parenting styles and parent-child interactions [25]. The deterioration of the parent-child relationship is usually caused by the limited or inconsistent expression of care and warmth, and excessive protection and control [25]. ...
... Evidence from developmental behavioral genetic studies demonstrated the heritable influence on internalizing problems such as depression and anxiety across the life span [12][13][14]. Recently, corticotropin-releasing hormone binding protein (CRHBP) has been paid great attention as a candidate gene for stress-related disorders [15,16]. ...
Full-text available
The present study aimed to examine how CRHBP rs10062367 polymorphism interacted with parenting styles and sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) to impact on preschoolers’ internalizing problems. A total of 446 preschoolers (Mage = 4.55, SD = 1.07) participated in the study and their saliva were extracted to genotype the CRHBP rs10062367 polymorphism, and their parents were invited to complete a battery of questionnaires to assess parenting styles, preschoolers’ SPS, and internalizing problems. Results indicated that high SPS preschoolers with A allele exhibited fewer internalizing problems under the condition of positive parenting while they exhibited more internalizing problems under the condition of negative parenting. The findings provide support for the Differential Susceptibility Model/Biological Sensitivity to Context Theory that A allele of rs10062367 and high SPS might be the “susceptibility markers” of children to environments.
... The genesis and maintenance is the result of the combined action of different factors: (a) genetic: Gregory and Eley (2007) consider that numerous genes are involved resulting in a high heritability, for example 73% in separation anxiety disorder and 61% in agoraphobia; (b) personal: behavioral inhibition (Rapee et al., 2009), negative affectivity (neuroticism) (Espada et al., 2021), selective attention and threat overvaluation (Hadwin et al., 2006) play an important role in anxiety disorders in general, fear of negative evaluation in social anxiety disorder (Morales et al., 2016), anxiety sensitivity in panic disorder (Sandín et al., 2012) and harm avoidance in generalized anxiety disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013); (c) familial: marital conflicts (Yap et al., 2014) and overprotective upbringing (Orgilés et al., 2018) influence the etiology of various anxiety disorders; (d) environmental: stressful life events can act as triggers (Allen et al., 2008), for example traumatic separation from the attachment figure. ...
Family interactions constitute a critical context in which children can learn the basic relational skills that they need to make friends. In turn, friendship quality is a robust predictor of child socioemotional functioning. Therefore, friendship is likely to act as a bridge in a socioemotional developmental cascade linking early family interactions to child subsequent socioemotional adjustment. This study aimed to examine a mediation model linking family alliance (the degree of mother–father–child engagement and coordination in joint activities) in kindergarten to anxiety and depressive symptoms in early adolescence through the mediating role of friendship quality in middle childhood. The family alliance of 87 mother–father–child triads was assessed when children were aged 6 years based on a 15-min videotaped interaction. Children reported on the quality of their relationship with their best friend at age 10 and on their anxiety and depressive symptoms at both 12 and 13 years (averaged). Results showed that children who experienced better family alliance at 6 years had higher relationship quality with their best friend at 10 years which in turn, predicted less anxiety (but not depressive) symptoms in early adolescence. There was a significant indirect effect of family alliance on anxiety through friendship quality. Findings suggest that family alliance may play a central role in shaping children's capacity to develop high-quality friendships, with implications for their subsequent socioemotional functioning. Further longitudinal studies are needed to examine the reciprocal influences unfolding over time that are likely to characterize developmental cascades among family systems, children's developing friendships, and their socioemotional functioning.
Full-text available
Anxiety disorders (AD) are the most prevalent of the mental health conditions and are associated with significant and long-lasting burden of disease both for affected individuals and healthcare systems designed to support them. Despite this, barriers to traditional interventions mean less than half of adolescents experiencing ADs seek-treatment, with less than 20% of treatment-seekers ultimately receiving a scientifically validated intervention. Therapeutic games show significant potential to help reduce AD in adolescents, with some concerns remaining over their abilities to engage users, particularly over time. The chapter presents two studies relating to the development of a new mobile gamified intervention for adolescents with AD. This includes a user-feedback study on currently available games for anxiety and depression, followed by a user-feedback, acceptability, and intention-to-use study of a development version of the new intervention.
Parental Psychiatric Disorder presents an innovative approach to thinking about and working with families where a parent has a mental illness. With 30 new chapters from an internationally renowned author team, this new edition presents the current state of knowledge in this critically important field. Issues around prevalence, stigma and systems theory provide a foundation for the book, which offers new paradigms for understanding mental illness in families. The impact of various parental psychiatric disorders on children and family relationships are summarized, including coverage of schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, substance abuse disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders and trauma. Multiple innovative interventions are outlined, targeting children, parents and families, as well as strategies that foster workforce and organisational development. Incorporating different theoretical frameworks, the book enhances understanding of the dimensions of psychiatric disorders from a multigenerational perspective, making this an invaluable text for students, researchers and clinicians from many mental health disciplines.
Genetic research in the area of child and adolescent psychiatry has increased greatly in the past two decades. Through the establishment of large-scale twin studies, which combine longitudinal data collection from early childhood through to adolescence with detailed phenotypic assessments, evidence from twin research has substantially changed our understanding of the etiology and development of childhood psychiatric disorders and related traits. Based on more than 1000 published research articles, it is now clear that genetic factors play an important role in all psychiatric disorders. Yet, the development of child psychiatric problems is the result of a complex interplay between genetic sensitivity and environmental risk-factors. Twin studies have not only established the relative influence of genetic and environmental factors in the etiology of child psychiatric disorders and traits but also clarified developmental stability and change, causes of comorbidity, and begun to unravel complex gene–environment interplay. In this chapter, we provide an overview of what can be concluded about the etiology and development of childhood psychiatric disorders and traits from over two decades of twin research and discuss future direction for the field.
Full-text available
Human personality traits which can be reliably measured by any of a number of rating scales, show a considerable heritable component. The tridimensional personality questionnaire (TPQ) is one such instrument and was designed by Cloninger to measure four distinct domains of temperament - Novelty Seeking, Harm Avoidance, Reward Dependence and Persistence-that are hypothesized to be based on distinct neurochemical and genetic substrates. Cloninger proposed that individual variations in the Novelty Seeking trait are mediated by genetic variability in dopamine transmission. Individuals who score higher than average on the TPQ Novelty Seeking scale are characterized as impulsive, exploratory, fickle, excitable, quick-tempered and extravagant, whereas those who score lower than average tend to be reflective, rigid, loyal, stoic, slow-tempered and frugal. We now show that higher than average Novelty Seeking test scores in a group of 124 unrelated Israeli subjects are significantly associated with a particular exonic polymorphism, the 7 repeat allele in the locus for the D4 dopamine receptor gene (D4DR). The association of high Novelty Seeking and the 7-repeat allele was independent of ethnicity, sex or age of the subjects. This work, together with the accompanying confirmations in this issue, provides the first replicated association between a specific genetic locus involved in neurotransmission and a normal personality trait.
The genetical and statistical misconceptions which occur in the work of biometrical IQists are discussed. Differences between biometrical and traditional IQists are stated. Statement that all IQ tests measure the same intelligence and that IQ is a polygenic trait are critically examined. Attributes of a polygenic trait are stated and it is argued that the claim that the pattern of kinship correlations for IQ is the same as expected on a polygenic hypothesis (Bouchard & McGue, 1981) cannot be sustained. The deficiencies of Devlin et al. (1997), including incorrect formulae, are pointed out. The old definition of IQ as a quotient producing mental age scores could have introduced a spurious element in correlations among relatives. It is noted that as the value of the "independent" variable, i.e., "additive" IQ, cannot be measured, biometrical IQists' models have no predictive value. Most recent work in heritability of IQ is based on Jinks and Fulker (1970) which has an algebraic error (Vetta, 1974, 1981). This makes sections of the paper worthless. The problem of G x E interaction remains unresolved. Their method of "minimal sets" is explained in a simple way. The assumptions of heritability analysis are stated and it is noted that some of these are not satisfied by IQ scores. Observational studies which IQists use cannot assist to resolve the question of cause and effect. Some authors recognize it but say that they are looking "for clues about causality". It is inappropriate to claim that differences in IQ have a genetic basis until they have found these clues. It is known that, on average, high IQ individuals have lower "fitness". This led to fears of a dysgenic trend. These fears underestimate the problem. In fact, "IQ genes" are heading towards oblivion. It is argued that the new concept of democratic IQ genes (McGue, 1997) is unscientific. It is noted that biometrical IQists ignore the fact that, in the long run, inheritance of a trait depends upon heritabilities of the trait, fitness and the genetic correlation between them. The significance of the increase of IQ in western and other countries is discussed.
• The first- and second-degree relatives of children with anxiety disorders were compared with relatives of children with attention deficit—hyperactivity disorder and children who had never been psychiatrically ill for lifetime rates of psychopathological conditions, particularly anxiety disorders. Results from blind, diagnostic interviews indicated an increased prevalence of anxiety disorders in the first-degree relatives of children with anxiety disorder compared with relatives of both children with attention deficit— hyperactivity disorder and never psychiatrically ill children. Relationships between specific anxiety disorders in children and their relatives revealed an increased rate of panic disorder among the first-degree relatives of children with overanxious disorder, compared with the relatives of children with separation anxiety disorder and children with other types of anxiety disorders. There also was a trend for panic disorder to be more prevalent among relatives of children with panic disorder than among relatives of children with anxiety disorder without panic. Obsessive-compulsive disorder was the only other anxiety disorder that appeared to show a similar specific relationship between children and their relatives. In general, the findings from this study suggest that there is a familial component involved in the pathogenesis of childhood anxiety disorders. The specificity of this relationship varies among individual anxiety disorders.
Anxiety and depression in children and adolescents are reviewed, including differential diagnosis, assessment of symptoms, family history data, developmental features, and clinical correlates. Findings indicate that 15.9% to 61.9% of children identified as anxious or depressed have comorbid anxiety and depressive disorders and that measures of anxiety and depression are highly correlated. Family history data are inconclusive. Differences emerged among children with anxiety, depression, or both disorders. Anxious children were distinguishable from the other 2 groups in that they showed less depressive symptomatology and tended to be younger. The concurrently depressed and anxious group tended to be older and more symptomatic. In this group, the anxiety symptoms tended to predate the depressive symptoms. Findings are discussed in the context of a proposed developmental sequence.
A functional polymorphism in the promoter region of the human serotonin transporter (5-HTT) gene has been related to negative affect and amygdala activity. We studied amygdala activation during social anxiety provocation in relation to affective ratings and 5-HTT genetic variation. [H2 15O]positron emission tomography was used to estimate amygdala blood flow during private and public speaking (baseline and anxiety conditions) in 17 patients with social phobia. Genotyping identified patients with long and short alleles in the promoter region of the 5-HTT. Individuals with one or two copies of the short allele exhibited significantly increased levels of anxiety-related traits, state anxiety, and enhanced right amygdala responding to anxiety provocation, compared with subjects homozygous for the long allele. Thus, 5-HTT genetic variation was associated with symptom severity and amygdala excitability in social phobia.