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Interplay Between Childhood Physical Abuse and Familial Risk in the Onset of Psychotic Disorders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Helen L Fisher, Peter McGuffin, Jane Boydell, Paul Fearon, Thomas K Craig, Paola Dazzan, Kevin Morgan, Gillian A Doody, Peter B Jones, Julian Leff, Robin M Murray, Craig Morgan

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1443–1451
Number of pages9
JournalSchizophrenia Bulletin
Issue number6
Early online date7 Jan 2014
Accepted/In press7 Jan 2014
E-pub ahead of print7 Jan 2014
Published1 Nov 2014


King's Authors


Background: Childhood abuse is considered one of the main environmental risk factors for the development of psychotic symptoms and disorders. However, this association could be due to genetic factors influencing exposure to such risky environments or increasing sensitivity to the detrimental impact of abuse. Therefore, using a large epidemiological case-control sample, we explored the interplay between a specific form of childhood abuse and family psychiatric history (a proxy for genetic risk) in the onset of psychosis.

Methods: Data were available on 172 first presentation psychosis cases and 246 geographically matched controls from the Aetiology and Ethnicity of Schizophrenia and Other Psychoses study. Information on childhood abuse was obtained retrospectively using the Childhood Experience of Care and Abuse Questionnaire and occurrence of psychotic and affective disorders in first degree relatives with the Family Interview for Genetic Studies.

Results: Parental psychosis was more common among psychosis cases than unaffected controls (adjusted OR = 5.96, 95% CI: 2.09-17.01, P = .001). Parental psychosis was also associated with physical abuse from mothers in both cases (OR = 3.64, 95% CI: 1.06-12.51, P = .040) and controls (OR = 10.93, 95% CI: 1.03-115.90, P = .047), indicative of a gene-environment correlation. Nevertheless, adjusting for parental psychosis did not measurably impact on the abuse-psychosis association (adjusted OR = 3.31, 95% CI: 1.22-8.95, P = .018). No interactions were found between familial liability and maternal physical abuse in determining psychosis caseness.

Conclusions: This study found no evidence that familial risk accounts for associations between childhood physical abuse and psychotic disorder nor that it substantially increases the odds of psychosis among individuals reporting abuse.

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