Psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often run in families. In a new international collaboration, researchers explored the genetic connections between these and other disorders of the brain at a scale that far eclipses previous work on the subject. The team determined that psychiatric disorders share many genetic variants, while neurological disorders (such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s) appear more distinct.
Published today in Science, the study takes the broadest look yet at how genetic variation relates to brain disorders. The results indicate that psychiatric disorders likely have important similarities at a molecular level, which current diagnostic categories do not reflect.
The study was led by co-senior authors Ben Neale, director of population genetics in the Stanley Center at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and a faculty member in the Analytical and Translational Genetics Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Aiden Corvin, professor at Trinity College Dublin, with first author Verneri Anttila, a postdoctoral research fellow in Neale’s lab. The team further includes researchers from more than 600 institutions worldwide.
“This work is starting to re-shape how we think about disorders of the brain,” says Neale. “If we can uncover the genetic influences and patterns of overlap between different disorders, then we might be able to better understand the root causes of these conditions — and potentially identify specific mechanisms appropriate for tailored treatments.”