Some Genetic Links of Psychiatric and Neurological Brain Disorders Found

Research to improve the treatments of the future that also highlights how much there is about the human mind that isn’t yet scientifically known.

Today, we use sophisticated methods, such as DNA tests, AI analyses, and high-tech treatments, to understand brain disorders such as depression, Alzheimer’s, and schizophrenia.

But there’s still a lot of really basic stuff about these conditions that we simply don’t understand. That hinders our ability to effectively treat the hundreds of millions of people suffering from psychiatric and neurological illnesses.

In an effort to improve our understanding of brain disorders, an international team of researchers unified under the name the Brainstorm Consortium set out to determine if there’s a genetic link between different disorders.

They published the results of their study this week in the journal Science.

The first step in the study was gathering a lot of data.

First, the researchers pulled data from various genome-wide association studies (GWASs), which look for tiny variations in the human genome that crop up more frequently in people who have a certain disease or disorder than in those who don’t.

In total, the GWASs that the researchers analyzed included data on 265,218 patients with at least one of 25 brain disorders. Ten disorders were psychiatric (major depressive disorder (MDD), schizophrenia, etc.) and 15 were neurological (Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, etc.).

The GWASs also included 784,643 people not diagnosed with any of those disorders to act as control subjects.

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The point of all this data? To find connections that might give the researchers clues about where else to look for information about these brain conditions, especially what they might have in common.

Once they gathered all this data, the Brainstorm Consortium researchers could start to look for those connections.

They discovered that many psychiatric disorders shared the same genome variants. Schizophrenia in particular overlapped significantly with most of the other psychiatric disorders.

The same was not true for the neurological disorders. The researchers believe this suggests that psychiatric conditions are more closely related, at least genetically, than are neurological disorders, which seem to have more distinct genetic causes.

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Ultimately, better understanding the genetic connection between various disorders could improve how we treat them in the future, Pat Levitt, one of the authors of the Brainstorm Consortium’s paper, noted in a news release.

While the authors assert the need for further studies, their international collaboration puts us one step closer to understanding the human brain.

If we’re lucky, that understanding will improve how we treat disorders to such an extent that today’s “high-tech” treatment options will seem antiquated when compared to the treatments of tomorrow.

Study: Alcohol Use Disorders are the Biggest Risk Factor for Dementia

Alcohol use disorders — defined by the authors as disorders involving hospitalization — must have a neurodegenerative effect at causing dementia.

Alcohol use disorders are the most important preventable risk factors for the onset of all types of dementia, especially early-onset dementia. This according to a nationwide observational study, published in The Lancet Public Health journal, of over one million adults diagnosed with dementia in France.

This study looked specifically at the effect of alcohol use disorders, and included people who had been diagnosed with mental and behavioural disorders or chronic diseases that were attributable to chronic harmful use of alcohol.

Of the 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia (before the age of 65), the majority (57%) were related to chronic heavy drinking.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines chronic heavy drinking as consuming more than 60 grams pure alcohol on average per day for men (4-5 Canadian standard drinks) and 40 grams (about 3 standard drinks) per day for women.

As a result of the strong association found in this study, the authors suggest that screening, brief interventions for heavy drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders should be implemented to reduce the alcohol-attributable burden of dementia.

“The findings indicate that heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are the most important risk factors for dementia, and especially important for those types of dementia which start before age 65, and which lead to premature deaths,” says study co-author and Director of the CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research Dr. Jürgen Rehm. “Alcohol-induced brain damage and dementia are preventable, and known-effective preventive and policy measures can make a dent into premature dementia deaths.”

Dr. Rehm points out that on average, alcohol use disorders shorten life expectancy by more than 20 years, and dementia is one of the leading causes of death for these people.

For early-onset dementia, there was a significant gender split. While the overall majority of dementia patients were women, almost two-thirds of all early-onset dementia patients (64.9%) were men.

Alcohol use disorders were also associated with all other independent risk factors for dementia onset, such as tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, lower education, depression, and hearing loss, among modifiable risk factors. It suggests that alcohol use disorders may contribute in many ways to the risk of dementia.

“As a geriatric psychiatrist, I frequently see the effects of alcohol use disorder on dementia, when unfortunately alcohol treatment interventions may be too late to improve cognition,” says CAMH Vice-President of Research Dr. Bruce Pollock. “Screening for and reduction of problem drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders need to start much earlier in primary care.” The authors also noted that only the most severe cases of alcohol use disorder — ones involving hospitalization — were included in the study. This could mean that, because of ongoing stigma regarding the reporting of alcohol-use disorders, the association between chronic heavy drinking and dementia may be even stronger.