Researcher explores the genetic interplay between personality traits and COVID

In a recent study conducted at the University of Munich in Germany, scientists aimed to find the genetic effects that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has on individuals.

Since the global COVID-19 pandemic has affected and changed our lives in many aspects, it was important to determine the relationship between the COVID-19 host genetics and both personality traits and psychiatric disorders. Moreover, previous studies have indicated that individuals with mental disorders are more susceptible to getting infected with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus responsible for COVID-19, thus making this research even more important.

Study: Interplay between the Genetics of Personality Traits, severe Psychiatric Disorders, and COVID-19 Host Genetics in the Susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 Infection. Image Credit: Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

About the study

The aim of the current study was to examine overlapping genetic bases between major psychiatric disorders, personality traits, and susceptibility to COVID-19.

Linkage disequilibrium analysis was used to explore the genetic correlations of COVID-19 susceptibility with psychiatric disorders and personality traits based on data from the most comprehensive possible respective genome-wide association studies. This was done in two different cohorts studies including the PsyCourse and HeiDE studies.

The PsyCourse Study consisted of individuals with major psychiatric disorders, where the control group included individuals without any major psychiatric disorders. This was delivered throughout Germany and Austria and was followed longitudinally.

Polygenic risk scores were then utilized to determine whether any genetic connection existed between psychiatric disorders, personality traits, and COVID-19 susceptibility in individual-level data. Individual-level data were then used to estimate polygenic risk scores (PRS).

PRS were assessed to determine if susceptibility to COVID-19 was correlated with case status or with extraversion scores. The PRS were estimated using the PRS-CS method, excluding the HLA region on chromosome 6.

Study findings

The researchers observed no significant genetic associations of COVID-19 susceptibility with psychiatric disorders. Although, for personality traits, there was a significant genetic correlation for COVID-19 susceptibility with extraversion.

However, to confirm these findings for extraversion in a different study setting, the extraversion analysis was reiterated in the more comprehensive HeiDE study. This is because the HeiDE study was specifically created to estimate the connection between personality traits and somatic disorders. In this study, however, the team also did not recognize any significant association of PRS for COVID-19 susceptibility and extraversion.

Taken together, a direct genetic overlap was not found to contribute to the enhanced yet unexplained COVID-19 risk seen in individuals with a psychiatric diagnosis prior to SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, a shared genetic risk could still be caused by intermediate phenotypes. These phenotypes can include factors such as lower socioeconomic status or educational fulfillment in those with severe psychotic disorders.

It was further noted that an even greater focus should be set on psychosocial interventions, such as securing a good treatment plan for individuals with severe psychiatric disorders. Furthermore, there should be targeted measures for prevention and psychoeducation for individuals with personality determinants.

Conclusion

The current identified did not identify any notable connection between genetic risk factors for severe psychiatric disorders and genetic risk for COVID-19 susceptibility. However, among all the personality traits, extraversion showed evidence for a positive genetic association with COVID-19 susceptibility, but only in one setting and not in another setting.

Overall, these findings highlight a complex contribution of genetic and non-genetic components in the interaction between COVID-19 susceptivity and personality traits or mental disorders.

*Important notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
Rashika Tripathi

Written by

Rashika Tripathi

Rashika Tripathi is a dental graduate from Bangalore, India. She first took an interest in medical communications when she started her health and lifestyle website. She went on to do various research in her field and worked as a research assistant. Thus, she grew in her profession, not just in clinical terms but also in the academic research base. Rashika worked as a freelance medical writer for various firms and hospitals and helped to expand their content.

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