The gene environment aetiology of freezing and its relationship with internalizing symptoms during adolescence
Number of pages
SourceEbiomedicine, 81, (2022), article 104094
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ BSI OGG
SW OZ BSI KLP
PI Group Affective Neuroscience
Subject230 Affective Neuroscience; Developmental Psychopathology; Experimental Psychopathology and Treatment
Background: The freezing response is a universal response to threat, linked to attentive immobility and action preparation. It is relevant for acute stress coping in animals and humans, and subtle deviations in toddler freezing duration (absence of, or excessively long reactions) have been linked to higher risk for internalizing symptoms in adolescence. Yet, while individual freezing tendencies are relatively stable throughout life, little is known about their gene-environment aetiology. Methods: We investigated the heritability of toddler freezing in the Quebec Newborn Twin Study (QNTS; n=508 twins) by fitting behavioural genetic models to video-coded freezing responses during a robot confrontation. Furthermore, we examined the predictive associations between toddler freezing and internalizing symptoms (anxiety and depressive symptoms), as they unfold during adolescence (ages 12–19 years) using linear mixed-effects models. Findings: Freezing was found to be moderately heritable (45% of the variance accounted for by genetic factors). The remaining variance was explained by unique environmental factors, including measurement error. No significant contribution of shared environmental factors was noted. Additionally, shorter freezing was associated with more internalizing symptoms in adolescence at trend level, a pattern that was significant for depressive but not anxiety symptoms. Interpretation: Freezing is an adaptive coping mechanism in early childhood, which is partly driven by genetic factors. Crucially, the absence or shorter duration of these behaviours may signal vulnerability to depressive problems later in life. Funding: Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Research Fund of Quebec–Health and Society and Culture. Consolidator grant from the European Research Council (ERC_CoG-2017_772337).
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