Genetic link among five mental disorders: Study

In an important finding, US researchers have claimed a common genetic link between five mental health disorders — spectrum disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia.

An article in The Lancet claimed all errant variations of the genes responsible for the disorders are associated with alterations in calcium channel activity of brain cells. Calcium channels play an important role in functions of emotions and "executive functions" like planning, thinking, which are impaired in these conditions.

During the study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers analysed the genetic variations associated with the five disorders in 33,332 cases and 27,888 controls of European ancestry. They found significant overlapping of the genetic combination between the five disorders.

The co-relation between presence of variant genes and disease symptoms was found to be the strongest for adult onset disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.

"This analysis provides the first genome-wide evidence that individual and aggregate genetic risk factors are shared between five childhood-onset or adult-onset psychiatric disorders treated as distinct categories in clinical practice. This could serve as evidence to move beyond descriptive syndromes in psychiatry towards classification based on underlying causes," says one of the lead researchers, Jordan Smoller.

Experts here, however, point out that given the fact that genes rarely work in isolation and there are strong environmental determinants at work in their mutations, studies are required to confirm whether there is a racial or geographical variation in the location of the genes.

"The study is important because this is one of the biggest samples including family-based samples. If one can go to the origin of the cascading genetic variations contributing to a particular disease it would be extremely significant. The association of these genes with the calcium channels is also very interesting because these channels have a role to play in all the functions that are impaired in these conditions," said Dr Smita Deshpande, head of the department of psychiatry, RML Hospital.

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