In the largest genetic study of bipolar disorder to date, a group of 169 scientists from 11 countries reports a new genetic location contributing susceptibility to the disorder, along with confirming multiple previous genetic associations throughout the human genome.
“We are embarking on another large study of bipolar disorder with our colleagues at the University of Michigan, and these data give us hints on genetic variants to examine further with more in-depth technologies,” noted Rick Myers, Ph.D., president and director of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.
Given the complex nature of bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions, scientists need to examine variation in the genomes of large numbers of individuals, and pool the information together, to make reliable conclusions about genetic associations with the condition. This need led to the formation of the Psychiatric GWAS (Genome-Wide Association Study) Consortium, allowing researchers across the globe to share data. They now report, in the journal Nature Genetics, that variants in at least two genetic locations are significantly associated with bipolar disorder.
One of these locations, CACNA1C, had been reported by previous studies. This gene encodes the major subunit of a specific protein used throughout the brain called an ion channel. These important molecules control traffic across the membranes of cells, with one crucial role being transmission of signals in our neurons. Association of variants in the gene with bipolar disorder is consistent with years of evidence demonstrating drugs that act on ion channels have been shown to stabilize moods in bipolar patients. The new study confirms that research should continue to focus on ion channels in psychiatric disease.
In addition, the study suggested a new focus of research in psychiatric disease: genes called non-coding RNAs. Several of the locations associated with bipolar disorder, including a novel region called ODZ4, contain RNAs that are not translated into proteins but do their work in the cell as RNAs. These particular molecules have been an increasing area of interest over the last decade, and it now appears they should be examined with respect to bipolar disorder.
The work is published online by the journal Nature Genetics, at this link
The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama, is the cornerstone of the Cummings Research Park Biotechnology Campus. The campus hosts a synergistic cluster of life sciences talent – science, education and business professionals – that promises collaborative innovation to turn knowledge and ideas into commercial products and services for improving human health and strengthening Alabama’s progressively diverse economy. The non-profit institute is housed in a state-of-the-art, 270,000 square-ft. facility strategically located in the nation’s second largest research park. HudsonAlpha has a three-fold mission of genomic research, economic development and educational outreach.