Genetics and neuroscience of resilience and wellbeing (2014-)

Mental health and wellbeing is not simply the absence of mental illness, yet we know very little about its underlying neural and genetic mechanisms in relative comparison. Similarly, we know very little about the underlying mechanisms that contribute towards resilience to stress and adversity. This project led by Dr Justine Gatt aims to identify the genetics and neuroscience of resilience and wellbeing in a prospective cohort of 1,600 healthy adult twins.

Team Members & Collaborators

Dr Justine Gatt is leading this project as NHMRC CDF Research Fellow. Additional investigators on this project include Prof Peter Schofield (NeuRA and UNSW, Australia) and Prof Leanne Williams (Stanford University, USA). The PhD and graduate students involved in this project include: Kylie Routledge (PhD, completed), Rebecca Alexander (PhD), Sandy Wong (ILP, 2018), Miranda Chilver (PhD), Javad Jamshidi (Scientia PhD), and Arthur Montalto (PhD). Research Assistants involved in this project include: Sicong Tu (2016), Emily Crocetti (volunteer RA from Dartmouth USA, 2018). The twin participants for this project were drawn from the Twins Research Australia (TRA) twin registry (https://www.twins.org.au/).

Grant Funding

This project is supported by a NHMRC Career Development Fellowship awarded to Dr Justine Gatt (APP1062495, 2014-2017), a Commonwealth Health Minister’s Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research awarded to Dr Justine Gatt ($50,000, 2014-2017), and PhD Scholarships awarded to each PhD student.

Key Outcomes & Publications

One key outcome from this project is the development of the 26-item COMPAS-W Wellbeing Scale (Gatt et al., 2014, Psychiatry Research). What differentiates this wellbeing scale from many others is that it provides a “composite” measure of wellbeing; that is, a measure of both subjective (hedonia) and psychological (eudaimonia) wellbeing. The COMPAS-W scale can be used to calculate total wellbeing, as well as subscale measures of composure, own-worth, mastery, positivity, achievement and satisfaction. Twin modelling was conducted on the scale and heritability (genetic variability) was confirmed to be 48%. To download a copy of this scale, please click here.  

We have since conducted a number of studies examining the association between the COMPAS-W Wellbeing Scale and measures of depression and anxiety symptoms using the DASS-42 Scale (Routledge et al., 2016); measures of neurocognitive performance such as motor coordination, processing speed, sustained attention, cognitive control and flexibility, inhibition, working memory, recall memory and executive function (Routledge et al., 2017); and measures of emotion processing of positive and negative facial expressions (Routledge et al., 2018). Most recently, we have also demonstrated associations between COMPAS-W Wellbeing scores and grey matter volumetric differences in the brainstem pontine nuclei using MRI (Gatt et al., 2018). Across these studies, statistical analyses incorporated univariate and multivariate modelling of phenotypic, as well as genetic and environmental variance between twin pairs.

Gatt JM (In Press). The neuroscience of wellbeing: Part 1. In: Cohen L. Ed. The Encyclopedia of Health Psychology. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Gatt JM (In Press). The neuroscience of wellbeing: Part 2. In: Cohen L. Ed. The Encyclopedia of Health Psychology. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Alexander R and Gatt JM (In Press). Resilience. In: Miu AC, Homberg JR, Lesch K-P. Eds. Genes, Brain and Emotions: From Resilience to Psychopathology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Chapter 17.

Gatt JM, Burton KLO, Routledge KM, Grasby KL, Korgaonkar MS, Grieve SM, Schofield PR, Harris AWF, Clark CR, Williams LM. (2018). A negative association between brainstem pontine gray matter volume, wellbeing and resilience in healthy twins. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Jun 20; 43(5): 170125. doi: 10.1503/jpn.170125.

Routledge KM, Williams LM, Harris AWF, Schofield PR, Clark CR, Gatt JM. (2018). Genetic correlations between wellbeing, depression and anxiety symptoms and behavioral responses to the emotional faces task in healthy twins. Psychiatry Research, 264, 385-393.

Routledge KM, Burton KLO, Williams LM, Harris A, Schofield PR, Clark CR, Gatt JM. (2017). The shared and unique genetic relationship between mental wellbeing, depression and anxiety symptoms and cognitive function in healthy twins. Cognition and Emotion, 31(7), 1465-1479.