Gene variation raises risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia

A research team based at the University of Chicago has traced increased susceptibility to bipolar disorder to two overlapping genes found on the long arm of chromosome 13. The study, published in the May 2003 issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, is the first to implicate this gene complex, and the second to tie any gene, to the development of bipolar disorder, which affects 2 million American adults.

A previous study found that the same gene complex increases risk for schizophrenia. The current finding adds credence to the emerging notion that the same genes may be contribute to both disorders.

"The discovery of susceptibility genes for psychiatric disorders has been one of the most intractable problems in human genetics," said Elliot Gershon, M.D., professor and chairman of psychiatry at the University of Chicago and a co-author of the study. "In the past two years, we seem to have reached a watershed for psychiatric gene discovery, with the identification of genes that increase risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. After years of false starts and unfulfilled promises, we have begun to make real progress."

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes profound shifts in a person's mood, with spurts of high energy and elation alternating with longer periods of fatigue and deep sadness. It affects about one percent of adults, usually beginning in late adolescence.

The disorder is caused by multiple genes, each contributing a small part. The bipolar gene on chromosome 13 has a "weak effect," said Gershon, increasing susceptibility to the disease by about 25 percent.

The implicated genes, known as G30 and G72, were discovered through positional cloning, an approach that relies on small differences between family members who have a disease and those who do not to track down the genes that increase risk. With this approach the researchers do not have to know the

Contact: John Easton
University of Chicago Medical Center

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