Team sports participation mitigates genetic risk for psychopathology in school-aged children

Keiko Kunitoki, MD, MPH

Massachusetts General Hospital
Team sports participation mitigates genetic risk for psychopathology in school-aged children

Scientific Abstract

Background: Polygenic loading for ADHD increases risk not only for ADHD diagnosis but also for a range of psychiatric symptoms in mid-childhood. Parallel work suggests that team sports participation at this age mitigates risk for depression, potentially through intermediate effects on hippocampal volume. Here, leveraging ABCD data, we examined whether team sports participation mitigates genetic risk for a broad range of dimensional psychopathology, and whether these effects may be mediated through hippocampal volume.

Methods: Among unrelated 9-10-year-old children of European ancestry (n=3,814), ADHD polygenic risk scores (PRS) were derived using Psychiatric Genomics Consortium summary statistics. Lifetime team sports participation was assessed by the ABCD Longitudinal Parent Sports and Activities Involvement Questionnaire; individual sports and cultural activities were also extracted as control activities. Bilateral hippocampal volumes were calculated from T1 and T2 weighted MRI images with FreeSurfer. Multilevel regression modeled effects of PRS, activity involvement, hippocampal volume, and their interactions on Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) Total Score, controlling for age, sex, parental education, top 5 principal genomic components, total intracranial volume, MRI scanner, and study site.

Results: Team sports participation (β=-2.77, p=0.0002), lower ADHD PRS (β=1.46, p=0.0005), and increased total hippocampal volume (β=-0.71, p=0.0002) independently associated with lower CBCL total scores. Participation in team sports – but not individual sports or cultural activities – partially alleviated effects of PRS on CBCL (interaction β= -1.20, p=0.001). However, hippocampal volumes did not mediate PRS effects on CBCL.

Conclusions: Team sports participation partially offsets genetic predisposition to dimensional psychopathology at age 9-10, although contrary to prior work this association does not depend on hippocampal volume. Longitudinal studies of the ABCD cohort will determine if this gene- environment interaction affects specific patterns of emergent psychopathology, and may clarify underlying neurodevelopmental mechanisms.

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Keiko Kunitoki, MD, MPH, Dylan Hughes, Casey Hopkinson, Hamdi Eryilmaz, PhD, Alysa Doyle, PhD, Joshua L. Roffman, MD, MMSc

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