New understanding of mental health

Examining the brain cortex of a large number of deceased patients, the researchers found, for the first time, molecular signatures of mental illnesses.

The study

They studied five major problems — autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and alcoholism — and discovered that these conditions go in parallel with specific gene activity and manifest in the genes’ expression in the cerebral cortex, or the outermost layer of the brain.

Autism

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.

Autism’s most-obvious signs tend to appear between 2 and 3 years of age. In some cases, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months.

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that usually appears in late adolescence or early adulthood. Characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and other cognitive difficulties, schizophrenia can often be a lifelong struggle.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorders are brain disorders that cause changes in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function.People with bipolar disorders have extreme and intense emotional states that occur at distinct times, called mood episodes.

Depression

Sadness, feeling down, having a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities.

Alcoholism

Alcoholism is the most severe form of alcohol abuse and involves the inability to manage drinking habits.

Ground of study

Diagnosis of psychiatric disorders is largely based on symptoms and signs, and treatment of these is primarily by targeting symptoms, this study has come as a milestone. It took up five common, major, disabling and chronic psychiatric conditions and looked for genetic expressions in the brain cortex.

The study finds a close overlap in genetic and molecular level brain changes between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Survey

The National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-2016 estimated that nearly 150 million people in India were in need of mental health interventions and care. Given this pointer, it becomes important to get a better grip on both diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. This study should change the way psychiatric medicine works.

Way forward

While the study cannot immediately translate into therapeutics, as it was performed on the brains of deceased persons only, it could certainly pave the way for further research that would enable precision medicine approaches.

 

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