Investigating a novel approach to gene-environment interaction in depression and anxiety

Year of award: 2017


  • Dr Robert Keers

    Queen Mary University of London

Project summary

Psychosocial adversity increases the risk of depression and anxiety but only a minority of those affected will develop mental illness. It has been hypothesised that genetic factors make people more or less sensitive to environmental influences. Identifying these factors could provide insight into the biological mechanisms of risk and resilience and allow preventive interventions to be targeted at the most vulnerable. Nevertheless, capturing environmental sensitivity genes remains a significant challenge.

We aim to build on our pilot of a novel approach to this problem by establishing the Genetics of Sensitivity to the Environment Consortium which will bring together genetic data from twins from across the world. This will allow us to: replicate and refine our findings from the pilot study; investigate environmental sensitivity genes in different disorders and at different ages; and estimate the heritability of sensitivity to environmental influences.

This project will lead to a larger programme of research focusing on the mechanisms underlying genetic sensitivity to the environment in the development and treatment of mental illness. We will also establish a new resource for researchers by combining twin designs with genetic data.