Many distinct psychiatric diseases share a common genetic structure, according to new research by scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, an international team of investigators. Psychiatric disorders affect more than 25 percent of the population in a given year. In the largest-ever study of its kind, published in the journal Cell, researchers identified more than 100 genetic variants that affect the risk for more than one mental health condition.
A gene is made up of segments of DNA; an alteration in the DNA sequence produces a gene variant, which can increase or decrease the risk for disease. Many individual gene variants that affect the risk for specific psychiatric disorders have been identified. However, genes are often pleiotropic, meaning they produce multiple effects in the body.
Identifying gene variants that influence the risk for more than one psychiatric disorder is an important step toward improving the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions, says the study’s senior author, Jordan W. Smoller, MD, ScD, director of MGH’s Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit and a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS). “Understanding how specific genetic variations may contribute to a broad spectrum of illnesses can tell us something about the degree to which these disorders may have a shared biology,” says Smoller.
A new study from researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) and Cincinnati Children’s looks at the prevalence of abnormal thyroid function in youth with severe mood and anxiety disorder. It is the largest study to date of this population and will help mental health professionals better understand the predictors of abnormal thyroid function, like weight gain, family history or treatment with certain medications.
“I was interested in devising this study because I wanted to better understand any relationship between the physical illness and mood disorder,” says Marissa Luft, a third-year medical student at UC, and lead author on the study.
“The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends that clinicians consider of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism when assessing anxious or depressed youth, given that some thyroid conditions produce anxiety or depressive symptoms. However, until this study, we had limited evidence as to whether routine screening with a laboratory test was the best approach to screen for thyroid disease in kids with anxiety and depression,” says corresponding author Jeffrey Strawn, MD, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the UC College of Medicine and director of UC’s Anxiety Disorders Research Program, who mentored Luft.
Risks for autism and depression are higher if one’s mother was in hospital with an infection during pregnancy. This is shown by a major Swedish observational study of nearly 1.8 million children.
“The results indicate that safeguarding against and preventing infection during pregnancy as far as possible by, for instance, following flu vaccination recommendations, may be called for,” says Verena Sengpiel, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, and last author of the study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Maternal infection with certain infectious agents, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) or the herpes virus, are already known to be capable of harming fetal brain development and boosting the risk of certain psychiatric disorders.
There is a strong link between depression and anxiety disorders and autoimmune thyroiditis (AIT), a chronic thyroid condition affecting approximately 10 percent of the population. Scientists at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now proven that special treatment could help many sufferers, especially women.
Depression and anxiety are among the most common psychiatric disorders across the globe. In 2016 more than 260,000 patients were admitted to hospital for treatment in Germany alone, according to statistics from the Federal Statistics Office.
Together with Prof. Dr. Johannes Kornhuber, Chair of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at FAU, and scientists from the Psychiatric Clinic at the University of Bonn, Dr. Teja Wolfgang Grömer, medical practitioner in Bamberg and lecturer at the Chair of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, has now proven a strong link between depression and anxiety disorders and autoimmune thyroiditis. ‘Over the years, I must have been consulted by several hundred people suffering from depression and anxiety,’ reports the psychiatrist and former Max-Planck researcher. ‘At the end of 2015 I noticed a marked connection between AIT and the other two conditions, especially in patients suffering from both. After realising that more than one in two people diagnosed with anxiety and depression — and only in these cases, not other conditions — also tested positive for antibodies I decided to investigate the issue in more detail.’ With the help of the co-authors and a student of psychology at the University of Bamberg, Eva-Maria Siegmann, Dr. Grömer drew up a systematic overview of the current state of research and calculated the strength of the connection on the basis of statistics. For his metastudy, Dr. Grömer combined 21 independent studies based on a total of 36,174 participants. 35,168 of the participants suffered from depression and 34,094 from anxiety.
Researchers led by Carnegie Mellon University’s Marcel Just and the University of Pittsburgh’s David Brent have developed an innovative and promising approach to identify suicidal individuals by analyzing the alterations in how their brains represent certain concepts, such as death, cruelty and trouble.
Suicidal risk is notoriously difficult to assess and predict, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young adults in the United States. Published in Nature Human Behaviour, the study offers a new approach to assessing psychiatric disorders.
“Our latest work is unique insofar as it identifies concept alterations that are associated with suicidal ideation and behavior, using machine-learning algorithms to assess the neural representation of specific concepts related to suicide. This gives us a window into the brain and mind, shedding light on how suicidal individuals think about suicide and emotion related concepts. What is central to this new study is that we can tell whether someone is considering suicide by the way that they are thinking about the death-related topics,” said Just, the D.O. Hebb University Professor of Psychology in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Your body’s acid/alkaline homeostasis, or maintenance of an adequate pH balance in tissues and organs, is important for good health. An imbalance in pH, particularly a shift toward acidity, is associated with various clinical conditions, such as a decreased cardiovascular output, respiratory distress, and renal failure. But is pH also associated with psychiatric disorders?
Researchers at the Institute for Comprehensive Medical Science at Fujita Health University in Japan, along with colleagues from eight other institutions, have identified decreased pH levels in the brains of five different mouse models of mental disorders, including models of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. This decrease in pH likely reflects an underlying pathophysiology in the brain associated with these mental disorders, according to the study published August 4th in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
Columbia scientists have identified a gene that allows neurons that release serotonin — a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and emotions — to evenly spread their branches throughout the brain. Without this gene, these neuronal branches become entangled, leading to haphazard distribution of serotonin, and signs of depression in mice. These observations shed light on how precise neuronal wiring is critical to overall brain health, while also revealing a promising new area of focus for studying psychiatric disorders associated with serotonin imbalance — such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and autism.
The findings were published in Science.
“By pinpointing the genes that guide the organization of neurons, we can draw a line between changes to those genes, and the cellular, circuitry and behavioral deficiencies that can occur as a result,” said Tom Maniatis, PhD, a principal investigator at Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, the Isidore S. Edelman Professor and Chair of department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center and the studys’ senior author.
A meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) has identified six loci or regions of the human genome that are significantly linked to personality traits, report researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine in this week’s advance online publication of Nature Genetics. The findings also show correlations with psychiatric disorders.
“Although personality traits are heritable, it has been difficult to characterize genetic variants associated with personality until recent, large-scale GWAS,” said senior author Chi-Hua Chen, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Radiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
There may be a genetic connection between some mental health disorders and type 2 diabetes. In a new report appearing in the February 2016 issue of The FASEB Journal, scientists show that a gene called “DISC1,” which is believed to play a role in mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and some forms of depression, influences the function of pancreatic beta cells which produce insulin to maintain normal blood glucose levels.
“Studies exploring the biology of disease have increasingly identified the involvement of unanticipated proteins–DISC1 fits this category,” said Rita Bortell, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Diabetes Center of Excellence at the Universityof Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Our hope is that the association we’ve found linking disrupted DISC1 to both diabetes and psychiatric disorders may uncover mechanisms to improve therapies, even preventative ones, to alleviate suffering caused by both illnesses which are extraordinarily costly, very common, often quite debilitating.”
Ex-prisoners with common psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder) and alcohol and drug abuse are substantially more likely to commit a violent crime after release than other prisoners, according to new research published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal. The study of almost 48000 ex-prisoners suggests that diagnosed psychiatric disorders are potentially responsible for up to a fifth of violent reoffending by former male prisoners and two-fifths by female ex-prisoners.
“One in seven prisoners have a psychotic illness or major depression and around one in five enter prison with clinically significant substance abuse disorders. As these disorders are common and mostly treatable, better screening and mental health services before and after release are essential to prevent future violence and improve both public health and safety,” says Seena Fazel, lead author and Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at the University of Oxford in the UK.