Risk Factors in Childhood-onset Depression

  • Funding Source: National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health
  • Years of Funding: 1997-2007
  • Investigators: Maria Kovacs, Program Project PI; Daniel Shaw, Project PI; Nathan Fox, Project PI; James Kennedy, Project PI; Jeff Cohn; Catherine Barr
  • Publications

The overall goal of this project was to investigate the developmental trajectories of the offspring of mothers with childhood-onset depression (COD). As part of a larger Program Project led by Dr. Maria Kovacs investigating genetic, psychophysiological, and environmental risk factors associated with the intergenerational transmission of COD, this project (Study 3) was focused on emotion-regulatory skills that may contribute to offspring’s risk for psychopathology. We first identified child, parent, and parenting attributes that were associated with child emotion regulatory skills and psychopathology, and then investigated how such child outcomes were linked to psychophysiological and/or genetic risk. In most of our work, offspring of proband mothers with childhood-onset depression (COD) were compared with the offspring of probands with no childhood-onset disorder (NCOD). During the 10-year course of the Program Project, we conducted 754 assessments on 244 offspring, 147 from COD or early-onset bipolar (BD) families and 97 from NCOD families. Our findings support the hypothesis that COD offspring would be characterized by greater negative and less positive emotion regulation (ER) and higher internalizing symptoms than the NCOD offspring (Silk et al., 2004). Specifically, daughters of COD mothers were more likely to wait passively and less likely to engage in active distraction than daughters of NCOD mothers. We also found that parental COD status was a risk factor for both externalizing and internalizing problems, but that these associations were moderated by child frontal asymmetry as well as observed child and parent behavior during emotional regulation tasks (Forbes et al., 2006). Shaw and colleagues (2006) found that COD mothers showed significantly less responsivity to their child’s distress, and for boys only, less contingent responsivity to the expression of child positivity. These results suggest a possible mechanism for the intergenerational transmission of problem behavior.