A major new genome wide association study published in the journal Science has significant new findings related to mental health. The core finding of the study is as follows:
The final results indicated widespread genetic overlap across different types of psychiatric disorders, particularly between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia. The data also indicated strong overlap between anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as between OCD and Tourette syndrome.
In contrast, neurological disorders such as Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis appeared more distinct from one another and from the psychiatric disorders -- except for migraine, which was genetically correlated to ADHD, major depressive disorder, and Tourette syndrome.From here.
A full set of abstracts from the article appear below the fold.
Consistent classification of neuropsychiatric diseases is problematic because it can lead to misunderstanding of etiology. The Brainstorm Consortium examined multiple genome-wide association studies drawn from more than 200,000 patients for 25 brain-associated disorders and 17 phenotypes. Broadly, it appears that psychiatric and neurologic disorders share relatively little common genetic risk. However, different and independent pathways can result in similar clinical manifestations (e.g., psychosis, which occurs in both schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease). Schizophrenia correlated with many psychiatric disorders, whereas the immunopathological affliction Crohn's disease did not, and posttraumatic stress syndrome was also largely independent of underlying traits. Essentially, the earlier the onset of a disorder, the more inheritable it appeared to be.
Science, this issue p. eaap8757
Brain disorders may exhibit shared symptoms and substantial epidemiological comorbidity, inciting debate about their etiologic overlap. However, detailed study of phenotypes with different ages of onset, severity, and presentation poses a considerable challenge. Recently developed heritability methods allow us to accurately measure correlation of genome-wide common variant risk between two phenotypes from pools of different individuals and assess how connected they, or at least their genetic risks, are on the genomic level. We used genome-wide association data for 265,218 patients and 784,643 control participants, as well as 17 phenotypes from a total of 1,191,588 individuals, to quantify the degree of overlap for genetic risk factors of 25 common brain disorders.
Over the past century, the classification of brain disorders has evolved to reflect the medical and scientific communities’ assessments of the presumed root causes of clinical phenomena such as behavioral change, loss of motor function, or alterations of consciousness. Directly observable phenomena (such as the presence of emboli, protein tangles, or unusual electrical activity patterns) generally define and separate neurological disorders from psychiatric disorders. Understanding the genetic underpinnings and categorical distinctions for brain disorders and related phenotypes may inform the search for their biological mechanisms.
Common variant risk for psychiatric disorders was shown to correlate significantly, especially among attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder (MDD), and schizophrenia. By contrast, neurological disorders appear more distinct from one another and from the psychiatric disorders, except for migraine, which was significantly correlated to ADHD, MDD, and Tourette syndrome. We demonstrate that, in the general population, the personality trait neuroticism is significantly correlated with almost every psychiatric disorder and migraine. We also identify significant genetic sharing between disorders and early life cognitive measures (e.g., years of education and college attainment) in the general population, demonstrating positive correlation with several psychiatric disorders (e.g., anorexia nervosa and bipolar disorder) and negative correlation with several neurological phenotypes (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease and ischemic stroke), even though the latter are considered to result from specific processes that occur later in life. Extensive simulations were also performed to inform how statistical power, diagnostic misclassification, and phenotypic heterogeneity influence genetic correlations.
The high degree of genetic correlation among many of the psychiatric disorders adds further evidence that their current clinical boundaries do not reflect distinct underlying pathogenic processes, at least on the genetic level. This suggests a deeply interconnected nature for psychiatric disorders, in contrast to neurological disorders, and underscores the need to refine psychiatric diagnostics. Genetically informed analyses may provide important “scaffolding” to support such restructuring of psychiatric nosology, which likely requires incorporating many levels of information. By contrast, we find limited evidence for widespread common genetic risk sharing among neurological disorders or across neurological and psychiatric disorders. We show that both psychiatric and neurological disorders have robust correlations with cognitive and personality measures. Further study is needed to evaluate whether overlapping genetic contributions to psychiatric pathology may influence treatment choices. Ultimately, such developments may pave the way toward reduced heterogeneity and improved diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders.
Subsection of genetic risk correlations among brain disorders and quantitative phenotypes.
Heritability analysis of brain disorders points to pervasive sharing of genetic risk among psychiatric disorders. These correlations are largely absent among neurological disorders but are present for both groups in relation to neurocognitive quantitative phenotypes. Only significant correlations shown. Line color and solidity indicate direction and magnitude of correlation, respectively.
Disorders of the brain can exhibit considerable epidemiological comorbidity and often share symptoms, provoking debate about their etiologic overlap. We quantified the genetic sharing of 25 brain disorders from genome-wide association studies of 265,218 patients and 784,643 control participants and assessed their relationship to 17 phenotypes from 1,191,588 individuals. Psychiatric disorders share common variant risk, whereas neurological disorders appear more distinct from one another and from the psychiatric disorders. We also identified significant sharing between disorders and a number of brain phenotypes, including cognitive measures. Further, we conducted simulations to explore how statistical power, diagnostic misclassification, and phenotypic heterogeneity affect genetic correlations. These results highlight the importance of common genetic variation as a risk factor for brain disorders and the value of heritability-based methods in understanding their etiology.