How much chemistry is there in psychiatry
Some disorders are more closely related than others, aren't they?
That's true. Schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder have a lot in common, for example the genes typical of schizophrenia overlap by around 70 percent with those that increase the risk of bipolar disorder. The genetic make-up for autism, ADHD and - again - depression also form a kind of cluster with many common gene variants. A third cluster is Tourette's syndrome, anorexia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But it can also be the other way around. Some gene variants increase the risk of schizophrenia, but decrease that of bipolar disorder. What this means exactly is still unclear.
Which other genes did you find?
In genome-wide association studies, we usually do not find any specific genes, but so-called gene locations or gene loci. Such a gene location is a piece of DNA on which several genes sit and which one inherits as a whole from father or mother. If you want to know which genes specifically play a role, you also have to carry out a laboratory study. If, for example, certain genes are specifically switched off in animal experiments, it is possible to track which processes, functions or behaviors are influenced by the genes. Since we always find hundreds of genetic locations for a psychiatric illness, it is tedious to carry out such laboratory tests for all of them. Above all, I want to find out which biological mechanisms play a role in mental disorders. Then we would better understand how the problems arise and how we can treat them. In order to discover these mechanisms, we carry out computer analyzes. To do this, we don't even have to know which genes are involved.
"Perhaps schizophrenia and depression, like autism and ADHD, belong to the innate neuropsychiatric developmental disorders"
Do you already know something about what connects the various mental disorders from a biological point of view?
One of the genetic locations involved in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression has to do with the calcium channels in the brain. Nerve cells need these channels in order to communicate with one another. It is not yet clear how exactly these channels influence the development of a mental disorder. In 2019, I tried to figure out the biological mechanisms common to these three disorders as well as ADHD and autism. All of the overlapping genes found in previous studies appeared to have something to do with nerve cells in the brain, most of them with synapses. These are the contact points between the nerve cells that, like calcium channels, play a role in neuronal communication.
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