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Approved research

Gene-Environment interplay in psychosis

Principal Investigator: Dr Robert Keers
Approved Research ID: 42423
Approval date: October 10th 2018

Lay summary

Psychotic and mood disorders are severe mental illnesses that cause a tremendous burden both personally and societally. Understanding the causes of these conditions is extremely important for developing effective prevention and treatments. Research suggests that both nature (genes) and nurture (environment) play an important role in the development of psychotic and mood disorders. However, genes and environments do not work in isolation. Rather, mental health is determined by the complex gene-environment interplay in the form of gene-environment correlations and gene-environment interactions. In gene-environment correlation, genes might make someone more likely to be exposed to environmental risk factors, such stress. In gene-environment interaction, genes change how people respond to these environmental factors: while some individuals deal with stress well, others might develop mental illnesses following stressful events. The genetic component to mental illnesses is not a single gene, but thousands of common genetic variants across the genome. Using new approaches that combine this genetic risk into a single score, studies have shown that those with a high genetic risk for disorders such as schizophrenia are more likely to experience paranoid thoughts or hallucinations. Similarly, genetic risk for bipolar disorder is associated with hypomanic symptoms, such as elevated mood and increased activity and energy. Importantly this genetic risk does not appear to have the same effects on everyone. While some people at a high genetic risk have no symptoms, others have symptoms severe enough for mental health disorders. In this three-year project, we aim to identify the environmental and lifestyle factors that make some individuals susceptible and others resilient to genetic influences on mental health problems. Finding these factors will help us to understand the causes of these disorders. They might also allow us to develop new preventions and treatments for those at a high genetic risk of mental illnesses.