Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Five Disorders Share Genetic Risk Factors, Study Finds

News Brief by Evan Balmuth

Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, major depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) all share some common genetic aberrations, according to a new study published online in Lancet this February. The study compared genetic tests of over 60,000 people worldwide, in what the authors describe as the largest study of psychiatric disorders to date. The meta-analysis uncovered four genetic abnormalities in common between the disorders. Although two of the related genes' functions are unknown, two of the aberrations involve genes that are important for calcium channels necessary for neuron signaling in the brain. The authors of this study note that these four genetic abnormalities are only the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of genetic risk factors, and that together they only contribute to a fraction of the overall genetic risk for these psychiatric disorders. In addition, when an individual has these genetic risk factors, which of the five mental disorders develops also depends on environmental factors. This may be observed in cases where one identical twin has schizophrenia while the other twin has bipolar disorder. Ultimately, this study contributes to the essential medical advancements of diagnosing psychiatric disorders based on genetic evidence rather than symptoms alone and treating these disorders' biological causes rather than their symptoms. Specifically, it may open doors for new studies of calcium channels' role in psychiatric disorders and clinical drug trials of calcium channel blockers.

Reference: Kolata, Gina. "5 Disorders Share Genetic Risk Factors, Study Finds." New York Times 1 Mar 2013, New York Ed. A11. Print.

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