The biology and genetics of bipolar disorder are not well understood, thus making understanding of the disorder challenging. Now, in a new study, researchers utilize an integrative approach in order to investigate the biology of bipolar disorder.

Dr. Inti Pedroso and colleagues examined results of three studies, which examined the association of common gene variants with bipolar disorder throughout the genome. In addition, the team examined a study of gene expression patterns in post-mortem brain tissue from individuals who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry explained:

“None of our research approaches provide us with sufficient information, by itself, to understand the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders. This innovative paper wrestles with this challenge in a creative way that helps us to move forward in thinking about the neurobiology of bipolar disorder.”

Dr. Pedroso said: “We combined information about genetic variation from thousands of cases and controls with brain gene expression data and information from protein databases to identify networks of genes and proteins in the brain that are key in the development of bipolar disorder.”

The team were able to define risk gene variants that were considered function, by virtue of the association with changes in gene expression levels, and to group these functional gene variants in biologically meaningful pathways.

The results found that the effect was due to genes that played a role in various neural signaling pathways like the Notch and Wnt signaling pathways, which are key processes in neurotransmission and brain development. They also suggest that these genes are also likely to play a part in causing this disorder. According to the researchers, these genes localize to the human postsynaptic density that is vital for neuronal function and their mouse knockouts show different behaviroal phenotypes whilst some are known targets of pharmacological therapies for bipolarism.

Dr. Gerome Breen, Senior Lecturer at King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, concluded:

“Our study provides some of the first evidence to show the biochemical and developmental processes involved in causing risk for developing this life-long and costly illness. We have highlighted potential new avenues for new drug treatments and intervention.”

Written by Grace Rattue