Researchers have focused for many years on trying to discover a genetic mechanism for ADHD and related conditions. A recent study carried out by The University of Queensland and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam may have uncovered the genes responsible for the development of ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia.
The collaborative research project analyzed more than 400,000 individuals to determine the genes behind these psychiatric disorders. The team found that several sets of genes marked all five disorders.
University of Queensland psychiatrist Professor Christel Middeldorp said “Before this analysis, we knew a lot of psychiatric disorders were related to each other due to their hereditary nature. We often see multiple family members with mental illness in one family, but not necessarily with the same disorder. We investigated if specific sets of genes were involved in the development of multiple disorders, which genes are not only related to say, ADHD, but also to the other four psychiatric disorders.”
He noted that these genes play a role in the same biological pathway or are active in the same tissue type. Genes in this group that were highly expressed in the brain affected one or more of the different disorders, and some genes appeared to be related to all the conditions studied. This demonstrates that there is a common set of genes that increases risk for all five disorders.
Dr. Anke Hammerschlag, the project’s lead author indicated the relatedness between the 5 conditions was due to the biological pathways shared by these genes in the brain. “We found that there are shared biological mechanisms acting across disorders that all point to functions in brain cells,” Dr. Hammerschlag said. “The synapse plays a vital role as this is the connection point between brain cells where the cells communicate with each other.”
According to Dr. Hammerschlag, one of the benefits from this work is that new pharmaceutical drugs could potentially target these shared pathways. Because the same genes play a role in multiple disorders, such drugs may be effective for a wide range of patients, regardless of their exact diagnosis.