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Genes Discovered Linked to Bipolar Disorder

Have you ever wondered if life would be easier for Individuals who are working with the challenges of mental illness and disorders like bipolar disorder, if we could just find a cure? What if we could identify actual genes and then develop medical interventions to alter the effects of the genes that actually cause mental illness such as bipolar? There may be hope.

Certain genetic regions have been found that seem to be linked to bipolar disorder. If researchers can pin point actual genetic regions that influence the condition of manic depressive disorder, then perhaps corresponding treatments can alter the effects of those genes. With that said, current research suggests that there may not be any one, or specific few genes directly responsible for bipolar disorder, however, Prof. Dr. Markus M. Nöthen, who is a human geneticist of the University of Bonn Hosptial said, “There is no one gene that has a significant effect on the development of bipolar disorder…Many different genes are evidently involved and these genes work together with environmental factors in a complex way.” Although this may rule out the simplistic idea of targeting one culprit in the cause of bipolar disorder, this truly does lead us to hope that if we can unravel the mysteries of the interconnectedness of genes and environmental factors, we might very well be on our way to developing strategies that can help individuals strengthen areas that make them vulnerable to developing the disorder.

A massive study was conducted in 2014 suggesting certain genes might be linked to bipolar disorder.[i] A newly discovered gene region “ADCY2 “codes an enzyme which is involved in the conduction of signals into nerve cells. The research paper quotes Prof. Nöthen,

“This fits very well with observations that the signal transfer in certain regions of the brain is impaired in patients with bipolar disorder….Only when we know the biological foundations of this disease can be also identify starting points for new therapies,”

The study of decoding genes associated with bipolar disorder has been ongoing for more than a few years now. However, this more recent study involved an international collaboration and generated data from 2266 patients with manic-depressive disorder and 5028 control persons. This data was w merged with existing data sets and analyzed together; both the effort and the results are impressive. This huge collaborative effort compared the DNA from very large numbers of patients with bipolar disorder with an equally large number of healthy persons so that differences could be confirmed statistically. This resulted in identifying “candidate genes”. Biostatistical methods were used to evaluate 2.3 million different regions in the genetic material of those with bipolar disorder, and the comparative pool of people without bipolar disorder. Five “risk” areas were identified, and two of these regions were new discoveries. Of particular interest, is the newly discovered gene region that is labeled “ADCY2”. This gene region codes an enzyme that is involved in the conduction of signals into nerve cells. Prof. Nöthen explains, “This fits very well with observations that the signal transfer in certain regions of the brain is impaired in patients with bipolar disorder”.

Yes, this does look hopeful. From the perspective of a Clinician, this is very good news. We have further hard evidence of the biological predispositions in some individuals to develop bipolar. This leads to the possibility of developing better physiologically based interventions to alleviate undesired mood swings. This also helps is to fight against the stigma and biases against people who are afflicted with mental illness.


[i] Universität Bonn. (2014, March 11). New gene for bipolar disorder discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140311123919.htm