9 February 2018

Schizophrenia, Autism and Depression Share Genetic Activity

Genetic Research

Many diseases are more or less genetically carried on from one generation to the next. But in many cases the researchers do not know how the genetic disposition causes the disease in question. A study by an international team of researchers published in Science has come a step closer to solving the mystery for mental disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and depression. The study is based on American tissue samples.

Some of the diseases we get in life are hereditary and caused, among other things, by genetic qualities that we are born with. But how differences in the genes can result in disease has in many cases been a mystery to the researchers.

Now an international team of researchers headed by the University of California and including the University of Copenhagen and the Mental health services in the Capital Region of Denmark has established which genes are active in the five mental disorders bipolar disorder, autism, depression, schizophrenia and alcoholism.

’We can see that the genes that are active to some extent are common to these mental disorders. In fact, it tells us how these disorders are closely related. It can explain why a lot of people suffer from more than one mental disorder, and why different mental disorders are found among several members of the same family. And it tallies with the genetic similarities of the mental disorders’, says Clinical Professor and co-author of the study Thomas Werge from the University of Copenhagen and the Mental health services in the Capital Region of Denmark.

Reinterpretation of 15 Years of Results
The researchers have studied the brains of 400 diseased people who suffered from one of the given mental disorders and compared them to the brains of a control group of people not suffering from the disorders. The research is based on tissue samples from American biobanks.

Then they have outlined the brain’s transcriptome, or what you could call the activity of the genome, which is the molecular processes that communicate information from the DNA to the proteins in the cells.

‘It is important that we are now able to see what the genes do and not just how they are organised. Over the last 10-15 years we have used DNA sequencing to establish the structure of our genes and genome. But we have not been able to interpret the genetics. We knew that some genes increase the risk of some diseases. But up until now we have not been able to tell how the genes do this’, says Thomas Werge. 

The researchers hope that similar methods can be used in future studies to establish the genetic causes of other brain diseases.

The study has received funding from NIMH, SFARI, the Lundbeck Foundation and the Novo Nordisk Foundation, among others.

Read the entire study: ‘Shared molecular neuropathology across major psychiatric disorders parallels polygenic overlap’


Klinisk professor Thomas Werge


Kommunikationsmedarbejder Mathias Traczyk
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