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Genetic roots of bipolar disorder revealed by first genome-wide study of illness

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But some people do not respond to these medications, and clinicians need more options so that they can tailor treatments to each patient. People inherit different gene variations, which may influence whether or not they respond to a given medication. Identifying and targeting these variations could help scientists develop additional medication options that take these differences into account.

One of the genes the researchers correlated with the disorder, DGKH, is active in a biochemical pathway through which lithium is thought to exert its therapeutic effects. The gene produces an enzyme (diacylglycerol kinase eta) that functions at a point closer to the root of the lithium-sensitive pathway than does the protein that lithium is thought to target. Scientists can now try to develop more effective medications by focusing on new compounds that act on the DGKH enzyme or regulate how much of the enzyme is produced. The DGKH gene is on chromosome 13.

Several other genes detected in the study produce proteins involved in this and other biochemical pathways thought to play a role in bipolar disorder. Understanding the effects that variations of these genes have on brain-cell function could lead to explanations of how they contribute to the condition and how it might be better prevented or treated.

"Treatments that target just a few of these genes or the proteins they make could yield substantial benefits for patients. Lithium is still the primary treatment for bipolar disorder, but DGKH is a promising target for new treatments that might be more effective and better tolerated," McMahon said.

The finding was enabled by recent genetics technology that allows researchers to scan, in a single experiment, thousands of genes for variations. Everyone has the same genes, but variations in them influence whether or not a person gets a specific disease. In this study, researchers compared variations found in the scans
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Contact: Susan Cahill
scahill@mail.nih.gov
301-443-4536
NIH/National Institute of Mental Health
8-May-2007


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