Common Gene Could Link Multiple Psychiatric and Medical Disorders

February 10, 2003

Public Affairs

Belmont, MA - A study by McLean Hospital researchers has shown that depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, as well as several other psychiatric and medical conditions might all be traceable to a common, but still unknown, genetic abnormality. The study (PubMed) appears in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

"Let me give you an analogy," said James Hudson, MD, ScD, associate chief of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at McLean. "We don't diagnose patients as having 'runny nose disease', 'sore throat disease' and 'cough disease'; they all simply have the common cold. Similarly, the results of our family study suggest that conditions such as major depression, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, compulsive binge eating and even certain medical disorders could all be caused by a single underlying disease-the common cold of psychiatry, if you will."

In their study, Hudson and his colleagues interviewed 64 individuals with depression and 58 others without depression, and then interviewed more than 300 members of the immediate families of both groups of individuals. The interviews covered not only depression, but also a large group of additional psychiatric and medical disorders that the investigators theorized to be related to depression. The disorders in this group, which the investigators call "affective spectrum disorder" (ASD), include major depression, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia, bulimia nervosa, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, and several other conditions. In a statistical analysis using newly developed mathematical techniques, the researchers demonstrated not only that depression clusters in family trees, but that all of the disorders of ASD cluster together in families as well.

"We found that relatives of an individual with a form of ASD had 2.5 times the risk of developing some form of ASD themselves, in comparison to the relatives of individuals with no forms of ASD," says Hudson.

The researchers are currently conducting genetic studies using a broader range of subjects in hopes of finding the specific common gene or genes that link depression and the other forms of ASD together.

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