Behavior Genetics

, Volume 35, Issue 5, pp 565–577 | Cite as

The Link between Depression in Mothers and Offspring: An Extended Twin Analysis

  • Frances RiceEmail author
  • Gordon T. Harold
  • Anita Thapar

Family studies have shown that maternal depression is a risk factor for depression in children. It is unclear, however, to what extent the familial transmission of depression from mother to child involves genes and how much is due to environmental adversity. This study used an extended twin design to assess the importance of environmental factors in the association of depression in mothers and children while simultaneously accounting for genetic relatedness in a UK. community sample of twins aged 8 to 17 years and their mothers. A model that constrained the genetic and environmental parameters to be equal within the two generations and included genetic and environmental paths between mother and offspring (twins) was tested with data from 1468 families. Significant environmental paths were found when maternal ratings were used. When cross-informant data were used (maternal depression and child self-reports of depression), the environmental path was no longer significant. However, for cross-informant data where children were classified as having high depression scores or scores within the normal range, significant environmental effects were found. These findings are interpreted in light of the strengths and weaknesses of the extended twin and other designs.


Child depression environment genes mother transmission 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Angold, A., Costello, J., Farmer, E., Burns, , Erkanli, A. 1999Impaired but undiagnosedJ. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiat.38129137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bilfco, A., Moran, P. M., Ball, C., Jacobs, C., Baines, R., Bunn, A., Cavagin, J. 2002Childhood adversity, parental vulnerability and disorder: examining inter-generational transmission of riskJ. Child Psychol. Psych.4310751086Google Scholar
  3. Boomsma, D. I., Vandenbree, M. B. M., Orlebeke, J. F., Molenaar, P. C. M. 1989Resemblances of parents and twins in sports participation and heart rateBehav. Genet.19123141CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Burke, K. C., Burke, J. D., Regier, D. A., Rae, D. S. 1990Age at onset of selected mental disorders in 5 community populationsArch. Gen. Psychiat.47511518PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Cantwell, D., Lewinsohn, P., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. 1997Correspondence between adolescent report and parent report of psychiatric diagnostic dataJ. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiat.36610619CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cardon, L. R., Fulker, D. W., Joreskog, K. G. 1991A LISREL models with constrained parameters for twin and adoptive familiesBehav. Genet.21327350CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Cohen, D. J., Dibble, E., Grawe, J. M., Pollin, W. 1975Reliably separating identical from fraternal twinsArch. Gen. Psychiat.3213711375PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Cooper, P. J., Goodyer, I. 1983A community study of depression in adolescent girls: I Estimates of symptom and syndrome prevalenceBr. J. Psychiatry163369374Google Scholar
  9. Costello, A. J., Angold, A. 1988Scales to assess child and adolescent depressionJ. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiat.27726737Google Scholar
  10. Cummings, E. M., Davies, P. T. 1994Maternal depression and child developmentJ. Child Psychol. Psych.3573112Google Scholar
  11. Dalgleish, T., Taghavi, R., Neshat-Doost, H., Moradi, A., Yule, W., Canterbury, R. 1997Information processing in clinically depressed and anxious children and adolescentsJ. Child Psychol. Psych.38535541Google Scholar
  12. D’Onofrio, B. M., Turkeimer, E. H., Eaves, L. J., Corey, L. A., Berg, K., Solaas, M. H., Emery, R. E. 2004The role of the Children of Twins design in elucidating causal relations between parental characteristics and child outcomesJ. Child Psychol. Psychiat.4411301144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dohrenwend, B. P., Levav, I., Shrout, P. E., Schwartz, S., Naveh, G., Link, B. G., Skodol, A. E., Stueve, A. 1992Socioeconomic status and psychiatric disorders – the causation-selection issueScience255946952Google Scholar
  14. Downey, G., Coyne, J. C. 1990Children of depressed parents: An integrative reviewPsych. Bull.1085076CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Eaves, L., Silberg, J., Meyer, J. M., Maes, H. H., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., Rutter, M., Neale, M., Reynolds, C. A., Erikson, M. T., Heath, A. C., Loeber, R., Tuett, K. R., Hewitt, J.␣K. 1997Genetics and developmental psychopathology: 2. The main effects of genetics and environment of behavioral problems in the Virginia twin study of adolescent behavioral developmentJ. Child Psychol. Psych.38965980Google Scholar
  16. Eaves, L. J., Fulker, D. W., Heath, A. C. 1989The effects of social homogamy and cultural inheritance on the covariances of twins and their parents: A LISREL modelBehav. Genet.19113122CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Eley, T. C. 1997Depressive symptoms in children and adolescents: etiological links between normality and abnormality: A research noteJ. Child Psychol. Psych.38861865Google Scholar
  18. Eley, T. C., Stevenson, J. 1999Exploring the covariation between anxiety and depressionJ. Child Psychol. Psych.4012731282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Goodman, S. H., Gotlib, I. H. 1999Risk for psychopathology in the children of depressed mothers: A developmental model for understanding mechanisms of transmissionPsych. Rev.106458490CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hammen, C., Burge, D., Burney, E., Adrian, C. 1990Longitudinal study of diagnoses in children of women with unipolar and bipolar affective disorderArch. Gen. Psychiat.4711121117PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Harrington, R., Fudge, H., Rutter, M., Pickles, A., Hill, J. 1990Adult outcomes of childhood and adolescent depressionArch. Gen. Psychiat.47465473PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Harrington, R. (1994) Affective disorders. In M. Rutter, E. Taylor, L. Hersov (eds.), Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Modern Approaches. Oxford, England: Blackwell Science Ltd.Google Scholar
  23. Harrington, R. C., Bredenkamp, D., Groothues, C., Rutter, M., Fudge, H., Pickles, A. 1994Adult outcomes of childhood and adolescent depression. III. Links with suicidal behavioursJ. Child Psychol. Psych.3513091319Google Scholar
  24. Harrington, R. C., Fudge, H., Rutter, M. L., Bredenkamp, D., Groothues, C., Pridham, J. 1993Child and adult depression: A test of continuities with data from a family studyBrit. J. Psychiat.162627633PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Johnson, J., Weissman, M. M., Klerman, G. L. 1992Service utilisation and social morbidity associated with depressive symptoms in the communityJAMA26714781483CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnson, J. H., McCutcheon, S. 1980Assessing life stress in older children and adolescents: Preliminary findings with the life events checklistSarason, I. E.Spielberger, C. D. eds. Stress and AnxietyHemisphere Publishing CorporationNew York111125Google Scholar
  27. Joreskog, K., Sorbom, D. (2001) LISREL 8.50. Scientific Software International Inc.Google Scholar
  28. Kasen, S., Cohen, P., Skodol, A. E., Johnson, J. G., Smailes, E., Brook, J. S. 2001Childhood depression and adult personality disorder: Alternative pathways of continuityArch. Gen. Psychiat.58231236CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Kendler, K. S., Heath, A. C., Martin, N. G., Eaves, L. J. 1986Symptoms of anxiety and depression in a volunteer twin population: The etiologic role of genetic and environmental factorsArch. Gen. Psychiat.4213221Google Scholar
  30. Kendler, K. S., Heath, A. C., Martin, N. G., Eaves, L. J. 1987Symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of depression: Same genes, different environments?Arch. Gen. Psychiat.44451457PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Kessler, R. C., Kendler, K. S., Heath, A., Neale, M. C., Eaves, L. J. 1994aPerceived support and adjustment to stress in a general-population sample of female twinsPsychol. Med.24317334Google Scholar
  32. Kessler, R. C., McGonagle, K. A., Zhao, S., Nelson, C. B., Hughes, M., Eshleman, S., Wittchen, H. U., Kendler, K. S. 1994bLifetime and 12-month prevalence of DSM-III-R psychiatric disorders in the United StatesArch. Gen. Psychiat.51819Google Scholar
  33. Klein, D. N., Lewinsohn, P. M., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. R., Olino, T. M. 2004Psychopathology in the adolescent and young adult offspring of a community sample of mothers and fathers with major depressionPsychol. Med.34113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lee, C. M., Gotlib, I. H. 1989Maternal depression and child adjustment: A longitudinal analysisJ. Ab. Psychol.987885CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lewinsohn, P. M., Solomon, A., Seeley, J. R., Zeiss, A. 2000Clinical implications of ‘subthreshold’ depressive symptomsJ. Ab. Psychol.109345351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Maes, H. H. M., Neale, M. C., Kendler, K. S., Hewitt, J. K., Silberg, J. L., Foley, D. L., Meyer, J. M., Rutter, M., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., Eaves, L. J. 1998Assortative mating for major psychiatric diagnoses in two population-based samplesPsychol. Med.2813891401CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. McGue, M., Christensen, K. 2003The heritability of depression symptoms in elderly Danish twins: occasion-specific versus general effectsBehav. Genet.338393CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Merikangas, K. R., Risch, N. 2003Will the genomics revolution revolutionize psychiatry?Am. J. Psychiat.160625635CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Meyer, J. M., Rutter, M., Silberg, J. L., Maes, H. H., Simonoff, E., Shillady, L. L., Pickles, A., Hewitt, J. K., Eaves, L. J. 2002Familial aggregation for conduct disorder symptomatology: the role of genes, marital discord and family adaptabilityPsychol. Med.30759774CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Monroe, S. M., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. R., Lewinsohn, P. M. 1999Life events and depression in adolescence: Relationship loss as a prospective risk factor for first onset of major depressive disorderJ. Ab. Psychol.108606614CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nicholos, R. C., Bilbro, W. C. 1976The diagnosis of twin zygosityActa Genetica16265275Google Scholar
  42. Pine, D. S., Cohen, E., Cohen, P., Brook, J. 1999Adolescent depressive symptoms as predictors of adult depression: Moodiness or mood disorder?Am. J. Psychiat.156133135PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Radke-Yarrow, M., Nottelmann, E., Martinez, P., Fox, B., Belmont, B. 1992Young children of affectively ill parents: A longitudinal study of psychosocial developmentJ. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiat.316877Google Scholar
  44. Rende, R. D., Plomin, R., Reiss, D., Hetherington, M. 1993Genetic and environmental influences on depressive symptomatology in adolescenceJ. Child Psychol. Psych.3413871398Google Scholar
  45. Rice, F., Harold, G., Thapar, A. 2002aThe genetic aetiology of childhood depression: A reviewJ. Child. Psychol. Psych.436579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rice, F., Harold, G. T., Thapar, A. 2002bAssessing the effects of age, sex and shared environment on the aetiology of depressive symptoms in childhood and adolescenceJ. Child Psychol. Psych.4310391051CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Richters, J., Pellegrini, D. 1989Depressed mother’s judgements of their children: An examination of the depression-distortion hypothesisChild Dev.6010681075PubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Rijsdijk, F. V., Snieder, H., Ormel, J., Sham, P., Goldberg, D. P., Spector, T. D. 2003Genetic and environmental influences on psychological distress in the population: General Health Questionnaire analyses in UK twinsPsychol. Med.33793801CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Rutter, M., Pickles, A., Murray, R., Eaves, L. 2001Testing hypotheses on specific environmental causal effects on behaviorPsych. Bull.127291324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Ryan, N. D., Williamson, D. E., Iyengar, S., Orvaschel, H., Reich, T., Dahl, R. E., Puig-Antich, J. 1987A secular increase in child and adolescent onset affective disorderJ. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiat.31600605Google Scholar
  51. Scourfield, J., Martin, N., Lewis, G., McGuffin, P. 1999Heritability of social cognitive skills in children and adolescentsBrit. J. Psychiat.175559564PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Scourfield, J., Rice, F., Thapar, A., Harold, G. T., Martin, N., McGuffin, P. 2003Depressive symptoms in children and adolescents: Changing aetiological influences with developmentJ. Child Psychol. Psych.44968976CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Silberg, J., Pickles, A., Rutter, M., Hewitt, J., Simonoff, E., Maes, H., Carbonneau, R., Murrelle, L., Foley, D., Eaves, L. 1999The influence of genetic factors and life stress on depression among adolescent girlsArch. Gen. Psychiat.56225232CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Spinhoven, P. H., Ormel, J., Sloekers, P. P. A., Kempen, G. I. J. M., Speckens, A. E. M., Van Hemert, A. M. 1997A validation study of the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) in different groups of Dutch subjectsPsychol. Med.27363370CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. STATA1999Stata Statistical Software (version 6)Stata CorporationCollege Station TXGoogle Scholar
  56. Sullivan, P., Neale, M. C., Kendler, K. S. 2000Genetic epidemiology of major depression: Review and meta-analysisAm. J. Psychiat.15715521562CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Thapar, A., Fowler, T., Rice, F., Scourfield, J., Bree, M., Thomas, H., Harold, G., Hay, D. 2003Maternal smoking during pregnancy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms in offspringAm. J. Psychiat.16019851989CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Thapar, A., Harrington, R., Ross, K., McGuffin, P. 2000Does the definition of ADHD affect heritability?J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiat.3915281536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Thapar, A., McGuffin, P. 1994A twin study of depressive symptoms in childhoodBrit. J. Psychiat.165259265PubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Warner, V., Mufson, L., Weissman, M. M. 1995Offspring at high and low risk for depression and anxiety: Mechanisms of psychiatric disorderJ. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiat.34786797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Weissman, M., Wickramaratne, P., Warner, V., John, K., Prusoff, A., Merikangas, K., Gammon, D. 1987Assessing psychiatric disorders in children – discrepancies between mothers and children’s reportsArch. Gen. Psychiat.44474753Google Scholar
  62. White, D., Leach, C., Sims, R., Atkinson, M., Cottrell, D. 1999Validation of the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale for use with adolescentsBrit. J. Psychiat.175452454PubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Wood, A., Kroll, L., Moore, A., Harrington, R. C. 1995Properties of the mood and feelings questionnaire in adolescent psychiatric outpatients – A research noteJ. Child Psychol. Psych.36327334Google Scholar
  64. Zigmond, A. S., Snaith, R. P. 1983The Hospital Anxiety and Depression ScaleActa Psych. Scandanavica67361370Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frances Rice
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Gordon T. Harold
    • 2
  • Anita Thapar
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychological Medicine, School of MedicineCardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  2. 2.School of PsychologyCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

Personalised recommendations