The possible causes of greater depression among adolescent girls were investigated by examining variation in the influence of genetic and environmental risk factors among 182 prepubertal female, 237 prepubertal male, 314 pubertal female, and 171 pubertal male twin pairs from the Virginia Twin Study of Adolescent Behavioral Development.
To compare the trajectory of depressive symptoms among boys and girls from childhood to adolescence; to analyze the role of genetic, shared, and unique environmental factors in depression among prepubertal and pubertal male and female twins; and to investigate a possible link between liability to depression and one salient index of the child's environment: past-year life events.
Child-reported depression was assessed using the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Interview and ratings of past-year life events and pubertal status obtained by maternal questionnaire and interview, respectively.
The impact of life events on depression was particularly evident in the adolescent girls. The results from model fitting indicate increased heritability for depression in this group, and its long-term consistency was mediated primarily by latent genetic factors. Model fitting also showed that at least part of the liability to depression and to life events can be linked to a common set of genes in the adolescent girls, and there is a notable developmental increase in the genetic variance for life events.
The greater heritability for depression in pubertal girls, its genetic mediation over time, and the increase in genetic variance for life events may be one possible explanation for the emergence of increased depression among pubertal girls and its persistence through adolescence.