Bipolar Genetic Map May Lead to Prevention and Better Treatment

What if we were able to identify who is at risk for development of bipolar even before it occurs? What if we were then able to prevent it from ever occurring in those lives? What if we could individualize treatment for bipolar according to the precise genes contributing to the person’s issue? It now appears that with genetic testing, prevention and better treatment may be attainable in the foreseeable future, thanks to a major study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

A group of neuroscientists initially gleaned data from genome-wide association research and other results on the activity of genes in humans and animals. Alexander B. Niculescu III of Indiana University said, “The process was similar to a Google approach—the more links there are to a page on the Internet, the more likely it is to come up at the top of your search list.” In other words, they looked at genes that had already been identified as contributing to bipolar, in the existing research literature, and prioritized them on the strength of evidence. The investigators were then able to create a genetic map of the disorder, a landmark development.

Further, they investigated how these genes work in tandem. The task of identifying the responsible genes has been an arduous process because hundreds of genes appear to be involved. Dr. Niculescu pointed out that it seems there may be up to 10% of the human genome involved in bipolar. Testing is not yet available, but the scientists are planning to develop it.

Researchers involved in the project were from Indiana University’s Medical School Institute of Psychiatric Research, Scripps Research Institute, the University of California San Diego, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and the National Institute of Mental Health. The study was published this month in the American Journal of Medical Genetics.

© Copyright 2008 by Jolyn Wells-Moran, PhD, MSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Alyssa

    December 2nd, 2008 at 2:22 AM

    It is always great to hear of new research and testings being done. This testing of genes for Bipolar would be a wonderful thing and any testing done would benefit those who suffer bipolar.

  • Karen

    December 2nd, 2008 at 2:23 AM

    Would this help people who has already been diagnosed with Bipolar? Or just help with the people who are on the borderline and shows signs? I hope they do start testing on this as it will help many people with this illness.

  • Tammie

    December 2nd, 2008 at 3:12 AM

    i hope a cure is found

  • Charlotte

    December 2nd, 2008 at 3:44 AM

    My sister has bipolar disorder and for years has functioned very well when she takes her medications. There was a time when she refused to take the meds and those were some terrible times for her and for the entire family. There was nothing we could do to help her as everything was such a random process and swing of emotions inside her body. I am surprised that she is still alive today given the high of her manic stages and the lows of her depression over the years but thank God that she is. I would love to see a better diagnosis for this mental illness as I am sure it destroys many families without some of them ever knowing what in the world is going on. My sister had good doctors from the start who recognized her situation but I know there are some who are not privy to this kind of care. I am a willing supporter of any program which can advance the study of bipolar disorder.

  • Caroline

    December 3rd, 2008 at 3:54 AM

    Charlotte I am sorry to hear about your sister’s disease but am happy to hear that medications in her case are helping. That is the frustration that I think many people have with those who suffer from bipolar disorder though. There are obviously medications out there that when the right dosages are discovered can really help them but there is often an unwillingness on the part of the patient to take them in regular intervals as they should. I know that often they will begin feeling better and think they no longer need them, stop taking them, and then slide into those old behavior patterns once again. I am so glad that researchers are making headway and giving people a better way to live and function normally with the disease but I am unsure as to whether or not there will ever be a “cure”.

  • AmyLee

    December 3rd, 2008 at 10:18 AM

    That is so good to hear, Charlotte, about your sister. I am glad she had good doctors that helped her with this. I am sure it is tough on the family who has to deal with this and I agree with you, that it would be great to see better diagnosis on this illness.

  • Lori Bell

    December 3rd, 2008 at 10:21 AM

    It is sad to see someone having to go through this, especially without the help they so much deserve and need.

  • Eugenia

    December 5th, 2008 at 5:27 AM

    My mother suffered from bipolar disorder, then called manic depressive episodes for much of her life. Ultimately it drove her to kill herself, which is the saddest ending imaginable. If there is any way to get the word out about how harmful this mental illness is and how much damage and hurt it can cause families then by all means spread the word! There are wounds that she had which never healed, and with those came scars of our own. My brothers and sisters and I have always been looking to one another not only for support but also eyeing each other warily wondering when one of us would begin exhibiting signs of the disease. Fortunately we have not but we all worry about our own kids and subsequent grandchildren. If there is a way to make sure that not one more family has to suffer in the ways that we did then it is worth every red cent out there to discover a cure.

  • Tina H

    December 5th, 2008 at 5:18 PM

    Chronic unhappiness is such an awful state… It takes away everything good about someone and hides it in its grasp.

  • marie Difilippo

    December 17th, 2008 at 8:21 PM

    I have bipolar disorder as well I refused to take my medications,besides they tried so many and nothing seemed to help. I am now on lithium And I believed it has done a world of good although a nurs practitione stated that my blood levels showed signs that it was registering. But somethin has helped which I have started other medications as well. I hope they come up with even more help for bipolar individuals. I have accomplishe so much in pastfew years because of the harm that was done to my marriage and family. I have been divorced for 6 years and regret and dispise this disorder so much and would like to help others through it and pursue a career as a case mangt. which I am also seeking the services myself and can’t seem to find help! If you have any referrels or comments please email me.

  • Kayla

    December 18th, 2008 at 2:10 PM

    Is lithium still the most prescribed drug for treatment in this illnes or are there other, better treatments and meds today that are being used?

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