Study identifies biological mechanisms for psychiatric disorders

23 January 2015

Psychiatric disorders – such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression – share genetic risk factors related to histone methylation (involved in DNA regulation) and immune function. This finding is a result of a large international study, including researchers from the VU/VUmc, in which they analyzed genetic data from over 60,000 individuals.

The findings of this study are an important first step towards the development of new treatments that could target these biological mechanisms. These treatments could be effective for a range of psychiatric conditions, irrespective of exact diagnosis. The next step is to investigate how these biological mechanisms alter brain function.
‘It has already been known that psychiatric disorders share genetic risk factors. However, until now, it has not been clear which biological mechanisms are affected by these genetic changes.’ says Professor Danielle Posthuma (VU/CNCR/CTG Lab) who has been part of the analysis group and directs the Genetic Cluster Computer which has been used for the statistical analyses. ‘The new findings in our study underscore the importance of genetic network and pathway analysis in psychiatry. However, it is only thanks to the huge sample sizes – resulting from a collaboration of hundreds of investigators worldwide in the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium – that we could make this progress in our understanding of shared biological mechanisms that act across disorders.’

The paper has been published online in Nature Neuroscience.