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Judy L. Silberg

Associate Professor
Department of Human Genetics

Tel: 804 828 8153
Fax: 804 828 8801
P.O. Box:
Biotech 1-150

A clinical psychologist by training, my research has focused on the complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors in the development of children's behavioral and emotional disorders. Our twin studies reveal that genetic factors play a significant role in the etiology of many forms of childhood psychopathology including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, overanxious disorder, food related disorders, and conduct disturbance. The mechanisms underlying risk to childhood psychopathology also extends to the genetic analysis of associations among these disorders as well as their covariance over time. Behaviors that share a common genetic etiology manifest differently at different developmental stages and genes and environment can be age and gender specific. Family environmental factors are most important in externalizing problems in adolescence and for many psychiatric diagnoses in very early childhood. Genetic sensitivity to the environment or genotype x environment interaction is an important mechanism in adolescent depression. Gene - environment correlation leads to increased exposure to depressogenic life events that potentiate risk. Some environmental associations can be explained by transmissible genetic effects such as maternal smoking in pregnancy and child conduct disorder. Whilst parental psychopathology plays a critical role in child outcomes, there are varying patterns of transmission. Parenting is a reciprocal process to which both parents and children contribute. Under genetic mediation, these influences lead to individual specific interactions between children and their parents. There are several research opportunities for analyzing genetically informative developmental data across a broad span of psychological development. These include: 1) The Virginia Twin Study of Adolescent Behavioral Development (VTSABD) a multi-wave, prospective study consisting of extensive psychiatric and environmental assessments of over 1400 juvenile twins and their parents, 2) A follow up assessment of these same twins for Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Food Related Disorders, Antisocial Personality, substance and alcohol use as young adults (YAFU), 3) The Children of Twins study (COT) of adult twins, spouses, and their children for studying the nature of transmissible risk from parents to their children and 4) Assessments of temperament, parental psychopathology, and preschool psychiatric diagnoses of very young Hispanic twins in Puerto Rico (PRINTS). In addition to the collection of extensive psychiatric data, DNA samples have been collected in all of the above studies.


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