Association of Rare Copy Number Variants with Risk of Depression

The role of large, rare copy number variants (CNVs) in neuropsychiatric disorders is well established, but their association with common psychiatric disorders, such as depression, remains unclear. 

The objective of this study was to examine the association of a group of 53 CNVs associated with neurodevelopmental disorders and burden of rare CNVs with risk of depression. 

This case-control study used data from the UK Biobank study sample, which comprised 502 534 individuals living in the United Kingdom. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, or bipolar affective disorder diagnoses were excluded. Analyses were further restricted to individuals of European genetic ancestry (n = 407 074). The study was conducted from January 2017 to September 2018. 

For the primary outcome, individuals who reported that a physician had told them they had a depression diagnosis were defined as cases. Analyses were repeated using 2 alternative depression definitions: self-reported lifetime depression with current antidepressant prescription at the time of visit 1, and hospital discharge diagnosis of depression. 

Copy number variants were identified in 488 366 individuals aged 37 to 73 years. In total, 407 074 individuals with European genetic ancestry (220 201 female [54.1%]; mean [SD] age of 56.9 [8.0] years) were included in the study. Of these individuals, 23 979 (5.9%) had self-reported lifetime depression and 383 095 (94.1%) reported no lifetime depression. The group of 53 neurodevelopmental CNVs was associated with self-reported depression (odds ratio [OR], 1.34; 95% CI, 1.19-1.49, uncorrected P = 1.38 × 10-7), and these results were consistent when using 2 alternative definitions of depression. This association was partially explained by physical health, educational attainment, social deprivation, smoking status, and alcohol consumption.  

A strong independent association remained between the neurodevelopmental CNVs and depression in analyses that incorporated these other measures (OR, 1.26; 95% CI, 1.11-1.43; P = 2.87 × 10-4). Eight individual CNVs were nominally associated with risk of depression, and 3 of these 8 CNVs (1q21.1 duplication, Prader-Willi syndrome duplication, and 16p11.2 duplication) survived Bonferroni correction for the 53 CNVs tested. After the exclusion of carriers of neurodevelopmental CNVs, no association was found between measures of CNV burden and depression. 

Neurodevelopmental CNVs appear to be associated with depression, extending the spectrum of clinical phenotypes that are associated with CNV carrier status.