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The experts Bru Cormand and Raquel Rabionet (Photo: Universitat de Barcelona)

Researchers find the genetic basis psychiatric disorders have in common

Psychiatric disorders share a great genetic subsceptibility, while non-psychiatric neurological disorders –such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s- have a more specific genetic, according to an article the journal Science has published. The work is the most ambitious and extense on shared genetic factors in brain disorders. In this multicentre study –driven by Verneri Anttila, Aiden Corvi and Ben Neale from the Brainstorm Consortium– participate the lecturers Bru Cormand and Raquel Rabionet, from the Faculty of Biology and members of the Institute of Biomedicine of the UB (IBUB) in the Barcelona Science Park, among more than 500 experts from around the world. 


The new study gathers data on millions of common genetic variants in more than 800,000 people ─among patients and healthy volunteers─ which could be risk factors in 25 neurological and psychiatric disorders (schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, major depression, ADHD, migraine, Alzheimer’s, etc.). 

This study is opening new frontiers in research on pathologies affecting the brain, and goes further from describing risk factors of genetic interest in the field of psychiatry. For the first time, research shapes the genetic basis psychiatric and non-psychiatric neurological disorders have in common (such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, migraine, etc.) and it broadens the interest focus on personality traits which are not regarded as clinical disorders (emotional instability, etc.) and cognitive parameters (school performance, for instance).

Experts focused the analysis on genetic variants that are common among the general population –present in more than 1 % of the individuals- but which can lead to psychiatric or neurological disorders in some combinations. The studied variants are those affecting changes in an only DNA nucleotide (SNPs), which are more abundant in the human genome.

According to the researcher Bru Cormand, head of the UB Research Group on Neurogenetics and member of IBUB  and the Rare Diseases Networking Biomedical Centre (CIBERER) and the Research Institute Sant Joan de Déu (IRSJD), “this study enables us determining the weight common genetic variants in the etiology of brain diseases: that is, describing the genetic architecture of these diseases and separating the shared genetic basis of each disorder’s specificity”. 

Psychiatric disorders: a strong genetic basis in common

The study proves there is a strong genetic correlation between schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, major depression and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, it also reveals there is not an important overlapping between genetic risk factors in psychiatric disorders and the other neurological pathologies.

“Some neurological disorders –says Bru Cormand- such as epilepsy, ictus, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, have genetic bases which are different from each other and other psychiatric disorders. The only exception is migraine, a neurological disorder which shares genetics with several psychiatric disorders (such as ADHD, major depression or Tourette syndrome)”.

Reference article: V. Anttila et al., “Analysis of shared heritability in common disorders of the brain”, Science, DOI:10.1126/science.aap875, 2018.

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