New databases put wings on search for bipolar risk genes

A novel, free, public online database opening this week should greatly speed efforts to find genes linked to increase risk of bipolar disorder. The Bipolar Disorder Phenome Databasea joint project of Johns Hopkins Psychiatry and the National Institute of Mental Healthis the first of its kind, offering detailed descriptions of symptoms and course of disease on more than 5,000 people with bipolar illness, a mood disorder commonly marked by alternating bouts of depression and manic or overexcited behavior.

Because DNA samples also are available for this group, the database will let researchers correlate specific symptoms with sequences of genetic material. The new database, available at http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/Psychiatry/moods/bioinformoodics/index.html is meant to complement the massive bodies of genetic data generated already by the Human Genome Project, the International HapMap Consortium and the Genetic Analysis Information Network.

This database describes the clinical picture of bipolar disorder in the fullest detail possible, says James Potash, M.D., who led the Hopkins portion of efforts to assemble the site. It also lets us pick out meaningful clusters of symptoms that will ultimately help identify genes.

Using this newer clinical subtyping approach to gene hunting, scientists winnow out pure groups of patients with a key characteristiclike those whose bipolar disorder (BD) begins earlier than usual or those who also experience panic attacks. Suspect stretches of DNAincluding genesare more likely to stand out in such groups. The approach has been effective in finding genes associated with Alzheimers disease and breast cancer, Potash says.

Collecting accurate descriptions of patients in large enough numbers to ensure reliable results is costly and time-consuming, he adds. The Bipolar Disorder Phenome Database lets re

Contact: Nick Zagorski
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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