A genetically informed study of the longitudinal relation between irritability and anxious/depressed symptoms

Jeanne Savage, Brad Verhulst, William Copeland, Robert R. Althoff, Paul Lichtenstein, Roxann Roberson-Nay*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective Little is known about the longitudinal genetic and environmental association between juvenile irritability and symptoms of anxiety and depression. This study's goal was to assess the relationship between these constructs across a critical developmental period spanning childhood to young adulthood. Method Parents (n = 1,348 twin pairs) from the Swedish Twin Study of Child and Adolescent Development completed the Child/Adult Behavior Checklist (CBCL/ABCL) about their twin children. Data were collected during a prospective, 4-wave study starting in childhood (ages 8-9 years) and ending in young adulthood (ages 19-20 years). An irritability score and an anxious/depressed score were computed from CBCL/ABCL item endorsements. Genetically informative cross-lagged models were used to estimate the genetic and environmental relationship between these 2 constructs across time. Results Our models suggested that irritability more strongly predicted anxious/depressed symptoms than vice versa, consistent with a causal role of irritability on anxiety/depression at older ages. This relationship was significant only in late childhood/early adolescence. Additive genetic and unique environmental factors were significant contributors to both irritability and anxious/depressed symptoms and were both specific to and shared between these 2 constructs. The same common environmental factors influenced both constructs, although these factors accounted for a smaller amount of variance than genetic or unique environmental factors. Conclusion This study adds to our understanding of the developmental relationship between irritability and anxious/depressed symptoms and the contribution of genes and environmental factors to their association across development. Findings suggest the need to monitor for emergence of internalizing symptoms in irritable children and their potential need for therapeutic intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-384
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • anxiety
  • depression
  • genetic
  • irritability
  • twins


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