The Gene for Alcoholism Stands Alone


Health Editor’s note:  Studies show that there is a large overlap of genes responsible for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and depression giving credence to the postulation that these mental disorders have an important genetic component. Alcoholism, which is based on genetic make-up, does not share the genes of the fore mentioned mental illnesses. While environmental factors are a large contributor to mental illness, your genes are the leading factor of your mental health……Carol 

Mental disorders may share molecular origins

by Harrison Wein, Ph.D.

At a Glance

Patterns of gene expression in the brains of people with five major mental disorders suggest some overlapping mechanisms.

The findings help provide a framework for understanding the processes that affect the risk for developing mental disorders.

About one in six U.S. adults lives with a mental disorder (44.7 million in 2016). But making an accurate diagnosis can be difficult. There’s no simple test for autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and other common mental disorders. It can also be difficult to know what treatments will work. A deeper understanding of the molecular processes that underlie mental disorders could lead to better diagnosis and treatment.

Most mental disorders are thought to arise from a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors. Past studies have found evidence of shared genetic risk factors among different mental disorders. A team led by Drs. Michael Gandal and Daniel Geschwind at the University of California, Los Angeles, aimed to further explore this overlap. The study, funded in part by NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), was published on February 9, 2018, in Science.

The scientists examined the transcriptome—the complete set of active genes (expressed RNA)—in the cerebral cortex of post-mortem brains from people with five disorders: autism spectrum disorder (50 samples), schizophrenia (159), bipolar disorder (94), depression (87), and alcoholism (17). They also compared samples from healthy matched controls (293) and people with inflammatory bowel disease (197).

The researchers found thousands of genes whose activity was elevated or suppressed in at least one of the disorders. Many were altered similarly across disorders. Others were more specific. The team found significant overlap among autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. There was also overlap among schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. However, there was no significant overlap between alcoholism and any others.

The researchers next analyzed groups of genes involved in known biological processes. Among the findings was that a group of genes associated with nervous system support cells called astrocytes was up-regulated in autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Groups of genes associated with nerve cell mitochondria (the cells’ energy factories) were down-regulated across these three disorders. Genes linked to nervous system immune cells called microglia were up-regulated in autism spectrum disorder. Ones associated with inflammation were up-regulated in depression.

The scientists compared the gene expression data with genetic variations that have been previously shown to underlie disease. They found that the overlap in gene expression across the disorders corresponded to their shared genetic risks. This result reinforces the idea that there is a substantial genetic component to these mental disorders.

“We show that these molecular changes in the brain are connected to underlying genetic causes, but we don’t yet understand the mechanisms by which these genetic factors would lead to these changes,” Geschwind explains. “So, although now we have some understanding of causes, and this new work shows the consequences, we now have to understand the mechanisms by which this comes about, so as to develop the ability to change these outcomes.”


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  1. I would need to see origins of the sampling group and make sure it crosses all classes and environments the same way. Native Americans have long said, that they are not acculturated to alcohol and I tend to believe that generational environment has as much affect as genealogy. But even after all those things considered, I find that calendars show a particular study group based on date of birth that is notable. For instance, a family with multiple children do not inherently produce the entire group as alcoholics. The town drunk is not a genealogical creation but a member of a group in calendrical origin. The one day, that specifically mentions this trait is Imox, and it is glaring in the study of the trait. So much so, that to ignore it, is to take a political stance instead of a scientific one. The opposing group is the tolerant one, that finds benefit and control in the consumption of alcohol, and it is Horus. He who raises his glass to the gods, and drinks with them. Another metaphor for the segment of society who finds furtherance from the spirits. It depends on the birthdate.

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