Possible Genetic Connection with Bipolar Disorder
Is there a genetic connection with bipolar disorder? Researchers at the University of Leeds investigating the genetic causes of bipolar disorder have identified two new drugs. One of which has already been found safe in clinical trials with laboratory mice, which shows signs of being effective in treating bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder like autism is thought to be a “spectrum of disorders” and seems to run in families and is believed to be caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Bipolar disorder effects 1% of the general population. Read my article on the inextricable relationship between the environment and genetics with regards to anxiety Is Anxiety Genetic?
A Genetic Connection with Bipolar Disorder Would not be an Unusual Discovery
Many studies show either a genetic connection to depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, schizophrenia, and now a study shows a genetic connection with bipolar disorder. Dr Steve Clapcote at the University of Leeds, who led the study says: “We suspected from published studies of bipolar patients that levels of enzymes known as NKA or sodium pumps may be abnormal in bipolar disorder, but so far the evidence has not been convincing enough to warrant detailed clinical investigations.”
The research on the genetic connection with bipolar disorder published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) used a strain of genetically modified mice that exhibit symptoms very similar to humans in the manic phase of the disorder. The mice were bred with a particular mutation that prevents the NKA enzyme from functioning normally. When tested the mice showed characteristics closely associated with bipolar disorder, such as an increased tendency to take risks, hyperactivity, and disturbed sleep patterns. They also exhibited reduced mania when treated with anti-manic drugs.
Current drugs available to treat bipolar disorder are limited to Lithium, Valproate and some antipsychotic medications . These can’t be matched to specific types of bipolar disorder and can many times cause unpleasant side effects. There is therefore a need for treatments which can be better targeted, and which are more effective and better tolerated by patients. One of the major challenges is finding the right medication for each patient, this often involves much time and side effects for the patient.
The Leeds researchers found that the mice showed decreased activity of the NKA enzyme as well as increased activity of a protein called ERK. Drugs known to have an effect on these two elements were administered to the mice, including Rostafuroxin, a drug used to treat high blood pressure and another drug SL327; both reduced their manic-like behavior.
The researchers now feel justified in screening people with bipolar disorder to look for genetic mutations in the same NKA enzyme that affected the mice. The researchers believe that this will help identify and target the type of bipolar disorder and increase the efficacy of treatment by finding the best medication sooner. They also believe that further studies might reveal what biochemical changes occurred in the drug-treated mice to find out how the drugs work. Understanding the mechanism of action or how a disease works on the brain chemistry is half the battle of coming up with an effective treatment that produces the greatest efficacy with the fewest side effects. Establishing a genetic connection with bipolar disorder is exciting news because as studies reveal and isolate the genes responsible for this illness and may open the door for more effective medications and even a possible cure through genetic engineering.