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Decades of research have shown that environmental exposures, including self-reports of trauma, are partly heritable. Heritable characteristics may influence exposure to and interpretations of environmental factors. Identifying heritable factors associated with self-reported trauma could improve our understanding of vulnerability to exposure and the interpretation of life events.


We used genome-wide association study summary statistics of childhood maltreatment, defined as reporting of abuse (emotional, sexual, and physical) and neglect (emotional and physical) (N = 185,414 participants). We calculated genetic correlations (rg) between reported childhood maltreatment and 576 traits to identify phenotypes that might explain the heritability of reported childhood maltreatment, retaining those with |rg| > 0.25. We specified multiple regression models using genomic structural equation modeling to detect residual genetic variance in childhood maltreatment after accounting for genetically correlated traits.


In 2 separate models, the shared genetic component of 12 health and behavioral traits and 7 psychiatric disorders accounted for 59% and 56% of heritability due to common genetic variants (single nucleotide polymorphism–based heritability [h2SNP]) of childhood maltreatment, respectively. Genetic influences on h2SNP of childhood maltreatment were generally accounted for by a shared genetic component across traits. The exceptions to this were general risk tolerance, subjective well-being, posttraumatic stress disorder, and autism spectrum disorder, identified as independent contributors to h2SNP of childhood maltreatment. These 4 traits alone were sufficient to explain 58% of h2SNP of childhood maltreatment.


We identified putative traits that reflect h2SNP of childhood maltreatment. Elucidating the mechanisms underlying these associations may improve trauma prevention and posttraumatic intervention strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)716-724
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Global Open Science
Issue number4
Early online date24 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2023


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