New study finds link between common mental health conditions

New research appears to suggest that several common mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, autism and schizophrenia share similar patterns of gene activity.

The findings, which were recently published in medical journal BioNews, come after a team of American researchers assessed as many as 700 post-mortem human brains of individuals who had previously been living with a variety of conditions.

The researchers set out to examine similarities and differences in gene activity in the brains of those who had had disorders ranging from autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to alcoholism and mild depression.

Interestingly, the team found that gene activity was eerily similar in most subjects.

Scientists discovered this through studying what is known as the ‘transcriptome’ of each patient’s brain, which, in short, enabled them to closely assess DNA and ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the samples taken.

Initially, the team expected similarities between conditions such as bipolar disorder and depression, but were surprised to find that schizophrenia and autism also shared similarities with these two conditions.

Commentators have said that the findings have already begun “changing fundamental views about the nature of psychiatric illness” as they are largely “not what clinicians would have expected.”

Dr Daniel Geschwind, study author and Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry and Human Genetics at the University of California, said: “This study demonstrates for the first time that gene expression can be used to robustly define cross-disorder phenotypes that are shared and distinct.

“These findings provide a molecular, pathological signature of these disorders, which is a large step forward.”

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