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.