Bipolar and other psychiatric disorders could overlap on the molecular level

By Paul Basilio, MDLinx
Published April 3, 2018

Key Takeaways

Some mental disorders share many of the same genetic risk factors, and the overlap could extend to the molecular level, according to new research published in Science.

The study showed that some of the suspect genes turn on and off in a similar manner in the brains of patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. These molecular signatures may hold clues as to how the brain is affected in these disorders, as well as potential treatments or prevention strategies.

Daniel Geschwind, MD, PhD, and Michael Gandal, MD, PhD, of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and colleagues examined gene expression patterns in the cerebral cortices of 700 deceased patients who had been diagnosed with ASD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, or alcoholism. They then compared the patterns with almost 300 matched healthy controls.

The effort was one of the largest of its kind, and received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Brain molecular data resources were gathered through the NIMH-funded PsychENCODE consortium, a data-sharing collaboration among NIMH grantees.

The study demonstrated for the first time that disorders with a large overlap in genetic risk factors also had a large overlap in patterns of gene expression and shared dysfunction in similar molecular pathways. For example, the researchers found that synapse and neuro-immune functions were similarly affected in ASD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

“The results advance understanding of how risk factors across many genes contribute to the development of various mental disorders, in combination with environmental factors,” explained Geetha Senthil, PhD, of the NIMH Office of Genomics Research Coordination. “The study also highlights the importance of such large-scale team science efforts in gaining insights into the biology underlying mental disorders.”

To read more about this study, click here

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