Genetic Basis for Childhood Onset of Bipolar Illness

November 10, 2011 · Posted in Risk Factors 

Genetic riskEric Mick of Massachusetts General Hospital reviewed the latest genetics data on bipolar disorder and reported at the 57th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry that 20% of people with childhood-onset bipolar illness have a first-degree relative with bipolar disorder, while only 10% of those with adult-onset bipolar disorder have a first-degree relative with bipolar disorder. These data are consistent with others that indicate that there is an increased genetic/familial risk for bipolar disorder in childhood- compared with adult-onset illness.

Mick reviewed a number of findings that suggest that alterations in genes involved in intracellular signaling and in the development and maintenance of long-term memory may also be implicated in bipolar disorder. Classical genome-wide association studies (GWAS), in which a link between any human gene and bipolar disorder is sought, have not found any genes with a large effect or a high predictive value for bipolar illness. In the meantime, other strategies for finding genetic links to bipolar disorder are being pursued, including studying rare gene variants. There is some evidence that these variants occur more frequently in children with early onset bipolar illness.

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