Five major mental illnesses have been discovered to share common DNA, according to new research funded by the National Institute on Mental Health. The study represents the most significant genetic examination of mental disorders to date.
Conducted by an international team of researchers, the findings indicate that five of the most common psychiatric illnesses share specific genetic variants. The study could change the way disorders previously thought to be separate and distinct are diagnosed.
The Associated Press writes that the study identified genetic relation between the following five major mental illnesses: schizophrenia, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, autism, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder.
There is currently no viable way to diagnose mental disorders through physical tests. Instead, certain symptoms agreed upon by the medical community signal the presence of different psychiatric illnesses.
As more knowledge is gained regarding the genetic makeup of mental disorders, it could eventually allow doctors to more accurately diagnose and treat patients.
Dr. Bruce Cuthbert of the National Institute on Mental Health explains:
“If we really want to diagnose and treat people effectively, we have to get to these more fine-grained understandings of what’s actually going wrong biologically.”
According to NBC News, the research was conducted by analyzing the genomes of 33,000 patients with mental illness against 28,000 individuals without. The results uncovered four regions of DNA where variation was shared among all five major disorders.
Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, spoke about the forward-looking implications of the study:
“Ultimately this kind of research will give us a return in terms of social attitudes toward brain-based illness. If you can understand an illness process, it doesn’t seem so mysterious and terrifying.”
Additional information about the genetic link between five of the most common mental illnesses can be found in the online journal The Lancet.