Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Do Certain Mental Illnesses Have a Common Cause?


Mental illness has long mystified physicians with its convoluted etiology. In a seemingly boundless constellation of likely causal agents behind the maladies of the mind, few have been definitively elucidated, and still fewer have been effectively accounted for. In too many instances, one of the only consoling insights available to those suffering has been a head nod to a vague equation involving nature, nurture, and, of course, a little bit of luck.

Thanks to the rise of genome-wide association studies, however, we are honing in more closely on at least the "nature" component of this unsatisfying trinity.

A new study by the Cross Disorders Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, which is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, quantifies overlap in the contributions of various common genetic variations to the risk for five common mental illnesses. Individually, these common genetic variations are estimated to contribute anywhere from 17 to 28 percent of the risk for developing the illnesses in question.

Though previous studies by the PGC have established overlaps between the contributions of certain common genetic variations to illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, and autism, the new research, published this week in the journal Nature Genetics, is the only to quantify such overlaps.

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