Self-Reported Medication Use as an Alternate Phenotyping Method for Anxiety and Depression in the UK Biobank

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The requirement for large sample sizes for psychiatric genetic analyses necessitates novel approaches to derive cases. Anxiety and depression show substantial genetic overlap and share pharmacological treatments. Data on prescribed medication could be effective for inferring case status when other indicators of mental health are unavailable. We investigated self-reported current medication use in UK Biobank participants of European ancestry. Medication Status cases reported using antidepressant or anxiolytic medication (n = 22,218), controls did not report psychotropic medication use (n = 168,959). A subset, “Medication Only,” additionally did not meet criteria for any other mental health indicator (case n = 2,643, control n = 107,029). We assessed genetic overlap between these phenotypes and two published genetic association studies of anxiety and depression, and an internalizing disorder trait derived from symptom-based questionnaires in UK Biobank. Genetic correlations between Medication Status and the three anxiety and depression phenotypes were significant (r g = 0.60–0.73). In the Medication Only subset, the genetic correlation with depression was significant (r g = 0.51). The three polygenic scores explained 0.33% – 0.80% of the variance in Medication Status and 0.07% – 0.19% of the variance in Medication Only. This study provides evidence that self-reported current medication use offers an alternate or supplementary anxiety or depression phenotype in genetic studies where diagnostic information is sparse or unavailable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-398
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Medical Genetics, Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics
Issue number6
Early online date18 Oct 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Oct 2021


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