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Approved research

Genetic and environmental factors including nutritional and lifestyle influences on neurodevelopmental disorders/traits (including impulsivity/compulsivity) and their brain correlates

Principal Investigator: Professor Jan Buitelaar
Approved Research ID: 23668
Approval date: July 29th 2019

Lay summary

Psychiatric disorders are among the most common disorders in humans and cause a high burden to patients, their families, and society. Recent research shows that many psychiatric disorders lie at the extreme of a continuum of behavioural traits present in the general population. Here, we will investigate the mechanisms underlying psychiatric disorders, in particular neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorders and their comorbidity with mental and somatic disorders, utilizing the knowledge of their continuum with population traits. We will investigate the biological mechanisms at the level of the brain (with MRI), and at the level of genetic and environmental factors. For the environmental factors, in addition to investigating the more classic risk domains, we are particularly interested in diet, as it is a modifiable factor. While it is known to be associated with mental health outcomes across various psychiatric domains, it remains to be investigated to what extent a healthy diet may influence shared and unique elements of psychiatric (co-)morbidity. In this proposal we will mainly focus on disorders and traits of 'self-control', on its constituent elements of impulsivity/compulsivity/neuroticism, and on further (mental and somatic) conditions possibly related to those. In the large UK Biobank cohort we will be able to: a) evaluate associations of genetic factors linked to the traits and disorders of interest; b) evaluate effects of nutrition, lifestyle and other environmental factors on disorders/traits of self-control and their comorbidity; c) investigate gene-environment interplay, in both interaction and correlation on these mental health outcomes and their comorbidity, d) examine if and how genetic factors linked to the disorders as well as nutrition, lifestyle and other environmental factors - individually or in interaction - affect the structure and function of the brain, with special focus on those areas that are involved in self-control/ impulsivity, compulsivity and neuroticism; e) examine mediating pathways, i.e., test if gene by environment interactions that are associated with brain alterations explain individual differences in these mental health outcomes. We will deliver new understanding on how genetic factors, nutritional components, lifestyle aspects, and other environmental factors, individually and in interaction, influence an individual's vulnerability to psychiatric traits and disorders linked to 'self-control', as well as the role of brain measures in the etiological path to poor mental (and comorbid somatic) health outcomes. This information is of great relevance to patients and their families, clinicians, policymakers and the population at large.