Gene by Environment by Resilience Interactions on Late-life Cognitive Functioning: Integrative Roles of Polygenic Score, Early Life Trauma, and Psychological Resilience

Soohyun Park, PhD

McLean Hospital – Fellow

Scientific Abstract

Background: Little is known about the integrative roles of polygenic traits, early life trauma, and psychological resilience on late-life cognition. This study investigated (a) whether early life trauma moderates the effect of polygenic traits on late-life cognition, and (b) whether psychological resilience moderates the interactive effect of early life trauma and polygenic traits on late-life cognition.

Methods: Growth curve modeling was conducted on a nationally representative sample of 7,981 adults from the European ancestry group aged 50 or older (4,479 females and 3,502 males) from the 7 waves (2004-2016) of the Health and Retirement Study. Cognition was measured by fluid and crystallized intelligence. Polygenic traits for cognition were measured by the polygenic score for general cognition (PGS-gc), and early life trauma was measured by parental substance abuse, physical abuse, and trouble with the police before age 18. Psychological resilience was measured as purpose in life and perceived control.

Results: After controlling for covariates, “parental substance abuse before 18” for older females (z = -2.74, p < .01, 95% CI:-0.51, -0.08), and “trouble with the police before 18” for older males (z = -2.66, p < .01, 95% CI:-0.67, -0.10), respectively, were significant moderators which attenuated the beneficial effect of higher PGS-gc on fluid intelligence. Moreover, perceived control moderated the “PGS-gc x early trauma” interaction on crystallized intelligence. Specifically, higher perceived control was associated with higher crystallized intelligence (a) among older females with a history of early life trauma and with high PGS-gc (z = 2.3, p < .05, 95% CI:0.01, 0.12) and (b) among older males with a history of early life trauma and with low PGS-gc (z = -2.22, p < .05, 95% CI:-0.12, -0.01), respectively.

Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate a gene-by-early trauma interaction in late-life fluid intelligence, thereby providing clear rationale for trauma-informed care for a geriatric population. These findings also suggests developing an optimal level of perceived control as a modifiable target for effective intervention to promote late-life cognitive health.


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research Areas


Soohyun Park, PhD, Su Hyun Shin, PhD, Giyeon Kim, PhD, Rebecca Allen, PhD, ABPP

Principal Investigator

Soohyun Park, PhD