Gene variations tie bipolar disorder, autism, and schizophrenia

A team of researchers has identified rare gene variations that may contribute to bipolar disorder and further discovered several of these genes are implicated in autism and schizophrenia.

The study, by researchers at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, was published in JAMA Psychiatry. Using exome sequencing of eight families, researchers identified 84 rare variants in 82 genes that segregate with bipolar disorder—or, are passed from parents to children—and are predicted to be damaging to the proteins encoded by those genes. And 19 of the genes were overrepresented in the family cases of bipolar disorder compared to control cases, which were non-related individuals with and without bipolar disorder.

James Potash

“It turned out that the schizophrenia and the autism genes were all more represented among our 82 genes than you would expect by chance,” says James Potash, MD, UI professor and department executive officer of psychiatry and senior author of the study. “And when we looked at our whittled-down group of 19 genes, the autism genes continued to be unexpectedly prominent among them.”

Identifying associated genes could help in finding new treatments for patients with bipolar disorder, which affects between 1 and 3 percent of the population.