Nav: Home

Common psychiatric disorders share an overlapping genetic risk

June 21, 2018

Investigators found that many common psychiatric disorders are deeply connected on a genetic level, sharing specific genetic risk factors, underscoring the need to recognize shared dimensions of brain dysfunction, and develop new treatment strategies. Results of this investigation have been published in the June 22, 2018 issue of the journal, Science.

Classification of brain disorders has evolved over the last century. Researchers in the current global study -- named the Brainstorm Project -- used recently developed methods of heritability analysis to accurately measure the correlation of common genetic variation across neurological and psychiatric disorders, and behavioral-cognitive traits. The results demonstrate substantial overlaps in genetic risk for psychiatric disorders, but not neurological disorders.

"Refining the classification of psychiatric disorders, which affect 1 in 6 adults, by relating the dimensions of disrupted function to their genetic underpinnings will be important for improving treatments," said Pat Levitt, PhD, the Simms/Mann Chair in Developmental Neurogenetics, incoming Chief Scientific Officer and Director of The Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Levitt is among the authors of the Brainstorm paper, titled, "Analysis of Shared Heritability in Common Disorders of the Brain," which involved investigators from across the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia and Asia.

The researchers quantified the degree of overlap for genetic risk factors of 25 common brain disorders -- more than had been studied previously -- based on genome-wide association of common genetic variation for 215,683 patients and 657,164 controls, as well as 17 dimensions of brain function - the observable characteristics (called phenotypes) - from nearly 1.2 million individuals.

The study found that certain psychiatric disorders shared a similar genetic foundation, with the strongest links between ADHD, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder (MDD) and schizophrenia. Some disorders -- such as MDD and anxiety disorders -- had significant correlations, which could suggest related genetic risk for expressing the disorder, researchers said.

In contrast, they found limited evidence for common genetic risk factors among neurological disorders, suggesting greater diagnostic specificity and likely dissimilar origins. Instead, neurological disorders appear more distinct from one another and from psychiatric disorders, except for migraine, which significantly correlated to ADHD, MDD and Tourette Syndrome. Of the neurological disorders, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, in particular, showed little or no correlation with each other and with other brain disorders.

The study also looked at the role of certain behavioral-cognitive functional dimensions. Of great interest was that the results suggest a link between cognitive performance in early life and genetic risk for both psychiatric and neurological brain disorders.

Researchers on the Brainstorm Project said that the high degree of genetic correlation among psychiatric disorders adds further evidence that current clinical boundaries don't reflect accurately the heritable nature of underlying disease processes.

"We need studies that determine the factors influencing the way in which shared genetic risk for different psychiatric disorders can lead to disruption of different brain functions. One possibility is that different environmental contributions during development interact with shared genetic risk that result in specific diagnoses," said Levitt, who is also the WM Keck Provost Professor in Neurogenetics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
The study was supported in part by grants 1RO1MH10764901 and 5U01MH09443203 and the Orion Farmos Research Foundation, the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation and the Simms/Mann Institute.

More information, including a copy of the paper, can be found online at the Science press package webpage at

About Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Children's Hospital Los Angeles has been ranked the top children's hospital in California and sixth in the nation for clinical excellence by the prestigious U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll. The Saban Research Institute at CHLA is one of the largest and most productive pediatric research facilities in the United States. CHLA also is one of America's premier teaching hospitals through its affiliation since 1932 with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. For more, visit, the childhealth blog ( and the research blog (

Media Contact

Ellin Kavanagh,, 323-361-8505

Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Related Brain Articles:

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.
An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.
Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.
Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.
Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.
BRAIN Initiative tool may transform how scientists study brain structure and function
Researchers have developed a high-tech support system that can keep a large mammalian brain from rapidly decomposing in the hours after death, enabling study of certain molecular and cellular functions.
Wiring diagram of the brain provides a clearer picture of brain scan data
In a study published today in the journal BRAIN, neuroscientists led by Michael D.
Blue Brain Project releases first-ever digital 3D brain cell atlas
The Blue Brain Cell Atlas is like ''going from hand-drawn maps to Google Earth'' -- providing previously unavailable information on major cell types, numbers and positions in all 737 brain regions.
Landmark study reveals no benefit to costly and risky brain cooling after brain injury
A landmark study, led by Monash University researchers, has definitively found that the practice of cooling the body and brain in patients who have recently received a severe traumatic brain injury, has no impact on the patient's long-term outcome.
More Brain News and Brain Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

If former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's case for the death of George Floyd goes to trial, there will be this one, controversial legal principle looming over the proceedings: The reasonable officer. In this episode, we explore the origin of the reasonable officer standard, with the case that sent two Charlotte lawyers on a quest for true objectivity, and changed the face of policing in the US. This episode was produced by Matt Kielty with help from Kelly Prime and Annie McEwen. Support Radiolab today at