Multiple Psychiatric illnesses Share the Same Perturbed Biological Pathways

Multiple Psychiatric illnesses Share the Same Perturbed Biological Pathways

Posted: January 30, 2015

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Over the past five years, researchers have begun to find the changes in DNA that increase risk for psychiatric disorders. It turns out there is no shortage of these genetic clues: hundreds, perhaps thousands, of variants contribute to schizophrenia.

But turning these genetic insights into therapeutic strategies requires understanding what biological functions are perturbed. A study published January 19th in Nature Neuroscience uses a new statistical approach to decipher these biological themes. Led by Gerome Breen, Ph.D., of King’s College London, and Peter Holmans, Ph.D., of Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, the study reports that the diverse genetic clues associated with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder congregate onto a limited number of biological processes, many of which are vital for normal brain development.

The researchers started with thousands of genetic variants associated with these adult psychiatric disorders identified in large studies run by the international Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, which is co-led by Patrick F. Sullivan, M.D., of the University of North Carolina., the 2010 recipient of a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator grant and winner in 2014 of the Foundation’s Lieber Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Schizophrenia Research. In all, over 60,000 patient samples formed the basis for the newly published study.  

Using pre-existing databases that have categorized genes according to what function they serve in the body, the researchers devised a method to score whether any category was hit by the genetic variants greater than expected by chance. They found at least 16, which included pathways involved in turning genes on or off, connecting neurons together for communication, and the immune system.

The results suggest that these late-adolescence, early-adult onset psychiatric disorders share some of the same biology, and future studies will have to determine exactly how that biology is perturbed in order to guide treatment.

Read the paper abstract.