Does Genetic Risk of Some Mental Health Conditions Influence Where People Choose to Live?

Priscilla Lynch 

October 29, 2021

People’s genetic risk of developing a variety of mental health conditions may influence where they choose to live, a new cross-sectional cohort study published in  JAMA Psychiatry  suggests.

While living in cities has been highlighted as an environmental risk factor for schizophrenia and, to a lesser extent, other mental health conditions, few studies have explored genetic effects on the choice of residence.

New research by King’s College London challenges proposals that city living is a simple environmental risk factor for schizophrenia or that those with diagnosed mental health conditions move to cities seeking better access to health care services.

Using the genetic data from 385,793 UK Biobank participants aged 37-73 years, the researchers calculated the polygenic risk score (PRS) for each individual for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anorexia nervosaattention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder.

The study revealed the higher genetic risks of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anorexia and autism spectrum disorder and the lower genetic risk of ADHD in those who moved from rural to urban areas compared to those who stayed in rural areas. Results were largely consistent across PRS, genetic correlation and mendelian randomisation analyses.

Lead author Dr Evangelos Vassos, Research Fellow at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, and Consultant Psychiatrist, said: “Our study provides further evidence that genetic liability to a variety of mental disorders may contribute to the choice of a person’s environment. The findings do not negate the important role that environment plays in the development of mental health conditions but it does suggest that we need more integrated approaches when exploring the causes of psychiatric disorders."

“The findings on ADHD are particularly interesting as, unlike other mental health conditions, people at low genetic risk of developing ADHD appear to have the tendency to move to cities. This observation highlights the importance of examining the low end of the distribution of genetic liability and not only focusing on people at high risk. More research is needed to understand the possible reasons behind this distinction.”

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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