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Five Psychiatric Disorders Share Genetic Risk Factors

Thu, 02/28/2013 - 4:01pm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Five different psychiatric illnesses share a handful of genetic risk factors, report researchers in The Lancet.

Four DNA mutations were discovered in the genomes of people who had at least one of five distinct disorders: attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia. The findings feed into a broader goal of “moving beyond descriptive syndromes in psychiatry and towards a [classification] informed by disease cause,” write the researchers in their report.

Two of the genetic variants are not linked to any particular gene function, but the other two are found in genes involved in controlling the flow of calcium in neurons, which regulates the brain cells’ activity. There’s a chance, then, that one kind of drug could treat multiple disorders. As lead study author Jordan Smoller of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital told the New York Times:

“The calcium channel findings suggest that perhaps—and this is a big if —treatments to affect calcium channel functioning might have effects across a range of disorders,”

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