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Approved Research

A Genome-wide association study of resilience

Principal Investigator: Dr Marc Woodbury-Smith
Approved Research ID: 72298
Approval date: December 6th 2021

Lay summary

It is widely recognised that early childhood trauma (including neglect) is strongly associated with later difficulties during adolescence and adulthood, including mental health problems and poor social and health outcomes. Some people, however, seem to be resilient to early adversity, and despite trauma or neglect during their childhood manage to have a good quality of life in adulthood. We know that psychological characteristics associated with such resilience include positive emotions, optimism and adaptive coping strategies. Other factors, such as good parenting and social support, particularly close, confiding relationships, can engender resilience, particularly through a 'buffering' effect on life events and adversity.

Other research has also focussed on biological factors that might influence how resilient a person is. These include hormonal factors as well as the body's 'stress response'. Genes are also believed to be important, and by studying the coding regions of key hormonal and stress response genes, some small studies have shown that differences in the coding regions of these genes are associated with how resilient a person is.

As there are probably many genes that are important, looking at the association between variation in a person's DNA and their resilience should examine all genes and the DNA between genes. This is undertaken using a method called genome-wide association (or GWA), which is the preferred option for studying the genetics of any complex trait.  We now plan to study resilience in this way using the UK Biobank, a population-based cohort of ~500,000 participants recruited in the UK.  Phenotype information pertaining to early adversity and later adaptation have been collected on participants in addition to their DNA. The aim of this study is to undertake a GWA study of resilience to identify markers (polymorphisms) that are associated with a person's resilience. In this way, we hope to identify some of the polymorphisms that are associated with resilience as well as the genes that are important and their pathways and functions in the body.