Study of 200,000 Vets Identifies Six Gene Variants Linked to Anxiety and One Is Found Only in African Americans; Study Highlights Advantages of Scale & Diversity in Association Studies; Evidence Also Found for Frequent Co-Morbidity of Anxiety & Depression

A massive genome-wide analysis of approximately 200,000 military veterans has identified six genetic variants linked to anxiety, researchers from Yale and colleagues at other institutions report in an article published online on January 7, 2020, in the American Journal of Psychiatry ( The article is titled “Reproducible Genetic Risk Loci for Anxiety: Results from ∼200,000 Participants in the Million Veteran Program.” Some of the variants associated with anxiety had previously been implicated as risk factors for bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia. The new study further contributes the first convincing molecular explanation for why anxiety and depression often coexist. "This is the richest set of results for the genetic basis of anxiety to date," said co-lead author Joel Gelernter, MD, the Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Genetics and of Neuroscience at Yale. "There has been no explanation for the comorbidity of anxiety and depression and other mental health disorders, but here we have found specific, shared genetic risks." Finding the genetic underpinnings of mental health disorders is the primary goal of the Million Veteran Program (MVP), a compilation of health and genetic data on U.S. military veterans run by the U.S. Veterans Administration. The research team analyzed the program's data and zeroed in on six variants linked to anxiety. Five were found in European Americans and one was found only in African Americans. The findings for the African American participants are especially important, says Dr. Dan Levey, PhD, of the VA Connecticut Healthcare Center and Yale University, and a co-lead author of the study.
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