Many NARSAD Grantees and Scientific Council Members of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation are among hundreds of researchers seeing the fruits of a worldwide, six-year-long collaboration that proved that five mental illnesses share several genetic risk factors. The study found genetic overlap with disorders previously thought of as distinct, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia.
NARSAD Grantee Jordan Smoller, M.D., Sc.D., served as the lead author of the study that took a novel approach by analyzing the five key disorders as if they were the same illness. Through examination of more than 61,000 genetic records—the largest review of its kind—they found genetic variation in the same four DNA regions associated with risk for these mental illnesses, including risk versions of two genes that regulate the flow of calcium into cells.
Dr. Smoller, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, expects the work to lead to improved diagnostic tools for the disorders. While each of the individual genetic associations identified account for a small amount of risk for mental illness, the study opens the door for further investigation of these areas. With continuing advances in identifying the cause of disease, diagnostics for mental illness can be developed based on neuroscience and genetics as well as observed behavior. These types of biologically-based diagnostic tools are virtually non-existent for mental illness.
The significant findings, which were published online on Feb. 27, 2013 in Lancet, were reported by the New York Times and other major media this week. “Their study could change how we understand and treat the illnesses,” said broadcaster Charlie Rose yesterday on “CBS This Morning.”