Massive Genetic Study Finds Connections Between Psychiatric Disorders


An international team of researchers from the US, UK, China, Singapore, Japan, and Australia has started a project called “Brainstorm Study.”

They used a million of people’s genes to find clues on how common psychiatric illnesses arise. Then, they found that there are many connections between some mental illnesses and other health issues, like heart disease.

The team gathered genetic data from 265,000 patients diagnosed with a brain disorder, reaching a total of 25 different brain disorders. They compared it to genetic data from 785,000 people with no diagnosis of brain disorders.

Among the disorders were Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, migraines, epilepsy, and stroke.

They found that some brain disorders were linked. For example, people with anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia had common genes. People with depression had similar genetic patterns to the ones that had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or bipolar disorder.

Reshaping Our Thinking On Brain Disorders

According to the authors, their study is the largest of its kind, and it can be found in the journal Science.

“This work is starting to reshape how we think about disorders of the brain,” stated senior author Brian Neale, who is the director of population genetics in the Stanley Center at MIT’s Broad Institute and a researcher at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital. He added that this is how they can find the root of the disorders:

“If we can uncover the genetic influences and patterns of overlap between different disorders, then we might be able to better understand the root causes of these conditions—and potentially identify specific mechanisms appropriate for tailored treatments.”

The findings suggest, just like other studies discovered, that mental illnesses don’t have a certain border between them. Many genes that make the brain susceptible to depression can also make it vulnerable to schizophrenia. Adding other factors like the environment could affect the brain function and manifest a mental illness.

Psychiatric disorders could share common patterns. For example, the lack of concentration can be seen in people with ADHD and schizophrenia. Neale added that diagnosis should evolve because:

“The tradition of drawing these sharp lines when patients are diagnosed probably doesn’t follow the reality, where mechanisms in the brain might cause overlapping symptoms.”

The authors added that their study shows that there is a link between “cognitive performance in early life and the genetic risk for both psychiatric and neurological brain disorders.”


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