Chicago scientists link genes with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder

September 19, 2011

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(Flickr/Diego Cantalapiedra)

A pair of new studies, including major contributions from Chicago scientists, could deepen our understanding of the genetic causes of mental illness. Each study examined genetic information for tens of thousands of people in what’s called a genome-wide association study or GWAS, and found a handful of genes connected with mental disorders. Scientists hope the findings will help reveal the biological mechanisms behind the illnesses, which could lead to therapies. 

One study, led by Pablo Gejman of NorthShore University Health System, found five new genetic variants associated with schizophrenia. He said it’s an important advance on one front of understanding the illness.

“The big picture is that we still, even after this work, know very little,” said Gejman, who directs the Center for Genetics in Psychiatry at NorthShore. “Schizophrenia remains a mystery. But we know more.”

In the other paper, scientists used a GWAS to zero in on genes that occur in people with bipolar disorder. Two of the suspect genes popped up in both studies. University of Chicago researchers contributed data to the bipolar disorder study, which surveyed the genomes of more than 70,000.

The papers appear together in the journal, Nature Genetics.