Bipolar Disorder Linked to Rare Version of Genes that Affect the Brain

People with a buildup of rare versions of certain genes are at a much higher risk for bipolar disorder, according to researchers at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. The genes in question control nerve cell activity in the brain.

Interplay of Genes and Neurons

The researchers looked at genomes from 200 people in 41 families with a known history of bipolar disorder. They pinpointed 164 rare forms of genes that are much more common in people with the disorder. Those with bipolar have an average of six of the rare gene forms, as compared to just one in those without the condition.

The genes' exact causal role is still unknown, but they're known to control the ability of ions, or charged particles, to enter or leave neurons, which affects neurons' ability to pass information through the brain. The researchers think it's possible that gene variants increase and decrease the rate at which the neurons fire, and future studies could shed light on how this affects bipolar disorder.

Disease Typically Starts Early

Bipolar disorder has long been known to have a genetic link, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and it can strike as early as childhood, although symptoms generally show up during the late teen or early adult years. The disorder manifests itself by age 25 in more than half of overall cases. Sufferers typically cycle between phases of manic activity, followed by depressive episodes, although there are different varieties of the disorder with different manifestations.

Generally, people in the manic stage may feel overly confident and even euphoric. They have racing thoughts, rapid speech, and a reduced need for sleep. They often feel invincible and may commit reckless acts without thinking about the consequences. They often feel ashamed of those actions when they finally come down. The depressive phase has symptoms very close to those of classic depression, including sadness, hopelessness, and fatigue.

If you suspect you could have bipolar disorder, this test on WebPsychology will let you do an initial self-screening. Follow up with a professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.