Examining Sex-Differentiated Genetic Effects Across Neuropsychiatric and Behavioral Traits

Sex Differences Cross-Disorder Analysis Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background: The origin of sex differences in prevalence and presentation of neuropsychiatric and behavioral traits is largely unknown. Given established genetic contributions and correlations, we tested for a sex-differentiated genetic architecture within and between traits. Methods: Using European ancestry genome-wide association summary statistics for 20 neuropsychiatric and behavioral traits, we tested for sex differences in single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-based heritability and genetic correlation (rg < 1). For each trait, we computed per-SNP z scores from sex-stratified regression coefficients and identified genes with sex-differentiated effects using a gene-based approach. We calculated correlation coefficients between z scores to test for shared sex-differentiated effects. Finally, we tested for sex differences in across-trait genetic correlations. Results: We observed no consistent sex differences in SNP-based heritability. Between-sex, within-trait genetic correlations were high, although <1 for educational attainment and risk-taking behavior. We identified 4 genes with significant sex-differentiated effects across 3 traits. Several trait pairs shared sex-differentiated effects. The top genes with sex-differentiated effects were enriched for multiple gene sets, including neuron- and synapse-related sets. Most between-trait genetic correlation estimates were not significantly different between sexes, with exceptions (educational attainment and risk-taking behavior). Conclusions: Sex differences in the common autosomal genetic architecture of neuropsychiatric and behavioral phenotypes are small and polygenic and unlikely to fully account for observed sex-differentiated attributes. Larger sample sizes are needed to identify sex-differentiated effects for most traits. For well-powered studies, we identified genes with sex-differentiated effects that were enriched for neuron-related and other biological functions. This work motivates further investigation of genetic and environmental influences on sex differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1127-1137
Number of pages11
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 15 2021


  • Behavioral
  • GWAS
  • Genetic correlation
  • Heritability
  • Psychiatric
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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