Knowledge about the biological origin of diseases like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric conditions is critical to improving diagnosis and treatment. In an effort to push the field forward, three UCLA researchers, along with scientists from more than 20 countries, have been taking part in one of the largest collaborative efforts in psychiatry — a genome-wide study involving more than 50,000 study participants aimed at identifying which genetic variants make people susceptible to psychiatric disease. This collaborative, the Psychiatric Genome-Wide Association Study Consortium (PGC), now reports, in two articles in the September 18, 2011 online edition of Nature Genetics, that it has discovered that common genetic variants contribute to a person's risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The PGC's studies provide new molecular evidence that 11 regions on the genome are strongly associated with these diseases, including six regions not previously observed. The researchers also found that several of these DNA variations contribute to both diseases. The findings, the researchers say, represent a significant advance in understanding the causes of these chronic, severe, and debilitating disorders. The UCLA researchers who contributed to the schizophrenia study are Dr. Roel A. Ophoff, a professor of psychiatry and human genetics and one of the founding principal investigators of the schizophrenia portion of the study; Dr. Nelson Freimer, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Genetics at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA; and Dr. Rita Cantor, a professor of psychiatry and human genetics. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are common and often devastating brain disorders.
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