Major efforts have been directed at family-based association and case-control studies to identify the involvement of candidate genes in the major disorders of mental health. What remains unknown is whether candidate genes are associated with multiple disorders via pleiotropic mechanisms, and/or if other genes are specific to susceptibility for individual disorders. Here we undertook a review of genes that have been identified in prior meta-analyses examining specific genes and specific mental disorders that have core disruptions to emotional and cognitive function and contribute most to burden of illness- major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety disorders (AD, including panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder), schizophrenia (SZ) and bipolar disorder (BD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A literature review was conducted up to end-March 2013 which included a total of 1519 meta-analyses across 157 studies reporting multiple genes implicated in one or more of the five disorders studied. A total of 134 genes (206 variants) were identified as significantly associated risk variants for MDD, AD, ADHD, SZ or BD. Null genetic effects were also reported for 195 genes (426 variants). 13 genetic variants were shared in common between two or more disorders (APOE e4, ACE Ins/Del, BDNF Val66Met, COMT Val158Met, DAOA G72/G30 rs3918342, DAT1 40-bp, DRD4 48-bp, SLC6A4 5-HTTLPR, HTR1A C1019G, MTHR C677T, MTHR A1298C, SLC6A4 VNTR and TPH1 218A/C) demonstrating evidence for pleiotrophy. Another 12 meta-analyses of GWAS studies of the same disorders were identified, with no overlap in genetic variants reported. This review highlights the progress that is being made in identifying shared and unique genetic mechanisms that contribute to the risk of developing several major psychiatric disorders, and identifies further steps for progress.
Mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness; rather it is a distinct entity representing wellness. Models of wellbeing have been proposed that emphasize components of subjective wellbeing, psychological wellbeing, or a combination of both. A new 26-item scale of wellbeing (COMPAS-W) was developed in a cohort of 1669 healthy adult twins (18-61 years). The scale was derived using factor analysis of multiple scales of complementary constructs and confirmed using tests of reliability and convergent validity. Bivariate genetic modeling confirmed its heritability. From an original 89 items we identified six independent subcomponents that contributed to wellbeing. The COMPAS-W scale and its subcomponents showed construct validity against psychological and physical health behaviors, high internal consistency (average r=0.71, Wellbeing r=0.84), and 12-month test-retest reliability (average r=0.62, Wellbeing r=0.82). There was a moderate contribution of genetics to total Wellbeing (heritability h(2)=48%) and its subcomponents: Composure (h(2)=24%), Own-worth (h(2)=42%), Mastery (h(2)=40%), Positivity (h(2)=42%), Achievement (h(2)=32%) and Satisfaction (h(2)=43%). Multivariate genetic modeling indicated genetic variance was correlated across the scales, suggesting common genetic factors contributed to Wellbeing and its subcomponents. The COMPAS-W scale provides a validated indicator of wellbeing and offers a new tool to quantify mental health.
The resting state default mode network (DMN) has been shown to characterize a number of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Evidence suggests an underlying genetic basis for this network and hence could serve as potential endophenotype for these disorders. Heritability is a defining criterion for endophenotypes. The DMN is measured either using a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan or by extracting resting state activity from task-based fMRI. The current study is the first to evaluate heritability of this task-derived resting activity. 250 healthy adult twins (79 monozygotic and 46 dizygotic same sex twin pairs) completed five cognitive and emotion processing fMRI tasks. Resting state DMN functional connectivity was derived from these five fMRI tasks. We validated this approach by comparing connectivity estimates from task-derived resting activity for all five fMRI tasks, with those obtained using a dedicated task-free resting state scan in an independent cohort of 27 healthy individuals. Structural equation modeling using the classic twin design was used to estimate the genetic and environmental contributions to variance for the resting-state DMN functional connectivity. About 9-41% of the variance in functional connectivity between the DMN nodes was attributed to genetic contribution with the greatest heritability found for functional connectivity between the posterior cingulate and right inferior parietal nodes (P<0.001). Our data provide new evidence that functional connectivity measures from the intrinsic DMN derived from task-based fMRI datasets are under genetic control and have the potential to serve as endophenotypes for genetically predisposed psychiatric and neurological disorders.
Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that is involved in the regulation of mood, anxiety and social biology. Genetic variation in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) has been implicated in anxiety, depression and related stress phenotypes. It is not yet known whether OXTR interacts with other risk factors such as early life trauma to heighten the severity of experienced anxiety and depression.
Exposure to early life trauma (ELT) is known to have a profound impact on mental development, leading to a higher risk for depression and anxiety. Our aim was to use multiple structural imaging methods to systematically investigate how traumatic stressors early in life impact the emotional brain circuits, typically found impaired with clinical diagnosis of depression and anxiety, across the lifespan in an otherwise healthy cohort. MRI data and self-reported histories of ELT from 352 healthy individuals screened for no psychiatric disorders were analyzed in this study. The volume and cortical thickness of the limbic and cingulate regions were assessed for all participants. A large subset of the cohort also had diffusion tensor imaging data, which was used to quantify white matter structural integrity of these regions. We found a significantly smaller amygdala volume and cortical thickness in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex associated with higher ELT exposure only for the adolescence group. White matter integrity of these regions was not affected. These findings demonstrate that exposure to early life trauma is associated with alterations in the gray matter of cingulate-limbic regions during adolescence in an otherwise healthy sample. These findings are interesting in the context that the affected regions are central neuroanatomical components in the psychopathology of depression, and adolescence is a peak period for risk and onset of the disorder.
The risk for mental illnesses such as depression is increasingly conceptualized as the product of gene-environment interactions and their impact on brain structure and function. The role of serotonin 3A receptor gene (HTR3A -42C>T polymorphism) and its interaction with early life stress (ELS) was investigated in view of the receptors localization to brain regions central to emotion processing.
Recent studies suggest that resting posterior versus frontal EEG delta/theta activity (delta/theta Pz-Fz) is both sensitive to pharmacological manipulations of neural dopamine and associated with the agency facet of extraversion (i.e., a motivational disposition comprising enthusiasm, energy, assertiveness, achievement striving and social dominance). These observations suggest that posterior versus frontal resting EEG delta/theta activity may represent a useful marker for investigating the molecular genetic basis of extraversion. The present study aimed to test the novel hypothesis of an association between delta/theta Pz-Fz and a functional polymorphism of the enzyme catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT VAL(158)MET) involved in dopamine catabolism. This was conducted in a large EEG data set from the Brain Resource International Database (BRID; resting EEG from N=1093 healthy individuals, 382 of which also genotyped for COMT VAL(158)MET). In summary, we (1) showed for the first time that the VAL allele is associated with increased delta/theta Pz-Fz; (2) replicated the association between extraversion and delta/theta Pz-Fz in a large, heterogeneous sample including both genders; and (3) documented that the VAL allele of the COMT VAL(158)MET is associated with increased extraversion scores, as previously reported for an overlapping BRID sample. This coherent pattern of findings adds further support to the suggestion that the posterior-anterior distribution of resting EEG slow wave activity in the delta/theta range represents a useful tool for probing the dopaminergic basis of extraversion.
Depression will be the second largest burden of disease by 2020. Developing new tools for identifying risk and ultimately prevention of depression relies on elucidating the integrative relationships between susceptibility markers from gene-stress interactions and how they impact emotional brain and arousal systems. They have largely been studied in isolation.
Depression is associated with an increase in the likelihood of cardiac events; however, studies investigating the relationship between depression and heart rate variability (HRV) have generally focused on patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD). The objective of the current report is to examine with meta-analysis the impact of depression and antidepressant treatment on HRV in depressed patients without CVD.
Biases toward processing negative versus positive information vary as a function of level of awareness, and are modulated by monoamines. Excessive biases are associated with individual differences in mood and emotional stability, and emotional disorder. Here, we examined the impact of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) Val(108/158)Met polymorphism, involved in dopamine and norepinephrine catabolism, on both emotional brain function and self-reported negativity bias. COMT genotyping and self-reported level of negativity bias were completed for 46 healthy participants taking part in the Brain Resource International Database. Functional MRI was undertaken during perception of facial expressions of fear and happiness presented under unmasked (consciously identified) and masked (to prevent conscious detection) conditions. Structural MR images were also acquired. A greater number of COMT Met alleles predicted increased activation in brainstem, amygdala, basal ganglia and medial prefrontal regions for conscious fear, but decreased activation for conscious happiness. This pattern was also apparent for brainstem activation for the masked condition. Effects were most apparent for females. These differences could not be explained by gray matter variations. The Met-related profile of activation, particularly prefrontally, predicted greater negativity bias associated with risk for emotional disorder. The findings suggest that the COMT Met allele modulates neural substrates of negative versus positive emotion processing. This effect may contribute to negativity biases, which confer susceptibility for emotional disorders.
Altered hippocampal volume, the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) Val66Met polymorphism, and neuroticism have each been implicated in the etiology of psychiatric disorders, especially depression. However, the relationship between these variables is not well understood. Here, we determined the effects of the BDNF Val66met polymorphism on the five-factor personality dimensions (assessed using the NEO-FFI), trait depression (assessed with the DASS-21) in a cross-sectional cohort of 467 healthy volunteers. A large matched subset of this cohort was also assessed for grey matter volume of the hippocampus and contiguous temporal cortical regions using magnetic resonance imaging. In Met carriers, elevations in neuroticism and trait depression and stress were associated with lower mean hippocampal volume, but there were no such associations in Val homozygotes. Trait depression, in particular, was found to moderate the effects of BDNF genotypes on hippocampal volume. Met carriers with high trait depression showed a reduction in grey matter volume of the mean hippocampus compared with Val homozygotes. These findings suggest that even in otherwise healthy subjects, trait depression may contribute to the susceptibility of Met carriers to hippocampal grey matter loss.
In this study, we examined whether the Met allele of the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism is associated with selective disruptions to task-relevant information processing. In 475 non-clinical participants for whom BDNF genotype status was determined we used the IntegNeuro computerized battery of neuropsychological tests to assess cognitive performance, an auditory oddball task to elicit the P300 event-related potential (ERP) and, in smaller subsets of these subjects, high resolution structural MRI imaging to quantify fronto-hippocampal grey matter (n=161), and functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess fronto-hippocampal BOLD activation (n=37). Met/Met (MM) homozygotes had higher verbal recall errors, in the absence of differences in attention, executive function, verbal ability or sensori-motor function. Further, MM homozygotes demonstrated a slowed P300 ERP during the oddball task, with corresponding alterations in hippocampal and lateral prefrontal activation, and a localized reduction in hippocampal grey matter. These results are consistent with a subtle impact of the Met allele on fronto-hippocampal systems involved in selective information processing of stimulus context and memory updating within the normal population. The findings also indicate that heritable endophenotypes such as the P300 have value in elucidating genotype-phenotype relationships.
The INTEGRATE Model draws on the framework of integrative neuroscience to bring together brain-body and behavioral concepts of emotion, thinking and feeling and their regulation. The key organizing principle is the drive to minimize danger and maximize reward that determines what is significant to us at each point in time. Traits of negativity bias reflect the tendency to perceive danger rather than reward related information, and this bias influences emotion, thinking and feeling processes. Here, we examined a self-report measure of Negativity Bias in relation to its impact on brain and body correlates of emotion processing. The contributions of the serotonin transporter (5-HTT-LPR) allelic variants and early life stress to both negativity bias and these correlates were also examined. Data were accessed in collaboration with the Brain Resource International Database (BRID) which provides standardized data across these domains of measurement. From an initial sample of 303 nonclinical subjects from the BRID, subjects scoring one standard deviation below (n=55) and above (n=47) the mean on the measure of negativity bias were identified as Negativity Bias and Positivity Bias groups for analysis, respectively. These subjects had been genotyped for 5-HTT-LPR Short allele versus LL homozygote status, and completed the early life stress scale, and recording of startle responses and heart rate for conscious and nonconscious fear conditions. A matched subset (n=39) of BRID subjects completed functional MRI with the same facial emotion tasks. The Negativity Bias (compared to Positivity Bias) group was distinguished by both arousal and brain function correlates: higher startle amplitude, higher heart rate for conscious and nonconscious fear conditions, and heightened activation in neural circuitry for both fear conditions. Regions of heightened activation included brainstem and bilateral amygdala, anterior cingulate and ventral and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) for conscious fear, and brainstem and right-sided amygdala, anterior cingulate and ventral, mPFC for nonconscious fear. The 5-HTT-LPR Short allele (versus LL) conferred a similar pattern of arousal and neural activation. For those with the 5-HTT-LPR Short allele, the addition of early life stress contributed to enhanced negativity bias, and to further effects on heart rate and neural activation for nonconscious fear in particular. These findings suggest that traits of negativity bias impact brain-body arousal correlates of fear circuitry. Both genetic variation and life stressors contribute to the impact of negativity bias. Given that negativity bias is a feature of conditions such as depression and associated biological alterations, the findings have implications for translation into clinical decision support.
Association studies suggest that the low activity variant of the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA)-uVNTR polymorphism confers risk for emotional disturbances associated with antisocial traits, particularly in males. Here, we assessed the low (MAOA-L) activity variant in relation to both brain function and a behavioral index of antisocial traits. From an initial sample of 290 healthy participants, 210 had low (MAOA-L) or high (MAOA-H) activity variants. Participants underwent a brief assessment of personality traits and event-related potential (ERP) recording during an emotion-processing task. Genotype differences in ERPs were localized using LORETA. The MAOA-L genotype was distinguished by elevated scores on the index of antisocial traits. These traits were related to altered ERPs elicited 120-280ms post-stimulus, particularly for negative emotion. Altered neural processing of anger in MAOA-L genotypes was localized to medial frontal, parietal, and superior temporo-occipital regions in males, but only to the superior occipital cortex in females. The MAOA low activity variant may increase susceptibility to antisocial traits through alterations to the neural systems for processing threat-related emotion, especially for males. Monoamines such as noradrenalin and serotonin may modulate these relationships, given that their metabolism varies according to MAOA variants, and that they modulate both emotional brain systems and antisocial aggression.
Few standardized tools are available for time-efficient screening of emotional health status across diagnostic categories, especially in primary care. We evaluated the 45-question Brief Risk-resilience Index for SCreening (BRISC) and the 15-question mini-BRISC in identifying poor emotional health and coping capacity across a range of diagnostic groups - compared with a detailed clinical assessment - in a large sample of adult outpatients. Participants 18-60 years of age (n = 1079) recruited from 12 medical research and clinical sites completed the computerized assessments. Three index scores were derived from the full BRISC and the mini-BRISC: one for risk (negativity-positivity bias) and two for coping (resilience and social capacity). Summed answers were converted to standardized z-scores. BRISC scores were compared with detailed health assessment and diagnostic interview (for current psychiatric, psychological, and neurological conditions) by clinicians at each site according to diagnostic criteria. Clinicians were blinded to BRISC scores. Clinical assessment stratified participants as having "clinical" (n = 435) or "healthy" (n = 644) diagnostic status. Receiver operating characteristic analyses showed that a z-score threshold of -1.57 on the full BRISC index of emotional health provided an optimal classification of "clinical" versus "healthy" status (sensitivity: 81.2%, specificity: 92.7%, positive predictive power: 80.2%, and negative predictive power: 93.1%). Comparable findings were revealed for the mini-BRISC. Negativity-positivity bias index scores contributed the most to prediction. The negativity-positivity index of emotional health was most sensitive to classifying major depressive disorder (100%), posttraumatic stress disorder (95.8%), and panic disorder (88.7%). The BRISC and mini-BRISC both offer a brief, clinically useful screen to identify individuals at risk of disorders characterized by poor emotion regulation, from those with good emotional health and coping.
Exposure to early life trauma is a known risk factor for depression and anxiety disorders in adulthood. This study aimed to evaluate the relative contributions of early life versus adult trauma in predicting levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms in nonclinical community adults. 1209 nonclinical community adults (18-70 years; 45% male) were assessed for mental health status, early life stressors, lifetime trauma exposure, and self-reported levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms. A subset of the full sample subjected to group comparisons (n = 1088) indicated that early life stressor exposure primarily accounted for significantly higher depressive and anxiety symptom scores when compared against adults reporting to be free of childhood stressor or adult trauma exposure. Subsequent hierarchical multiple regression analyses of this subset using five distinct early life stressor types, namely Interpersonal violation, Family breakup, Disasters/war, Familial health trauma/death and Personal health trauma derived from principal component analysis of a wide range of self-reported early stressor events in the full sample, showed childhood Interpersonal violation differentially predicted higher self-reported depressive and anxiety symptom scores in both males and females. Adult trauma exposure did not significantly predict these symptom scores. These findings underline the relative importance of exposure to interpersonal violation relative to other types of early life stressors and adult trauma in the risk of depressive and anxiety symptoms in nonclinical community adults.
Despite the significant advancements being made in the neurogenetics for mental health, the identification and validation of potential endophenotype markers of risk and resilience remain to be confirmed. The TWIN-E study (The Twin study in Wellbeing using Integrative Neuroscience of Emotion) aims to validate endophenotype markers of mental health across cognitive, brain, and autonomic measures by testing the heritability, clinical plausibility, and reliability of each of these measures in a large adult twin cohort. The specific gene and environmental mechanisms that moderate prospective links between endophenotype-phenotype markers and the final outcome of wellbeing will also be identified. TWIN-E is a national prospective study with three phases: I) baseline testing on a battery of online questionnaires and cognitive tasks, and EEG, MRI, and autonomic testing; II) 12-month follow-up testing on the online assessments; and III) randomized controlled trial of brain training. Minimum target numbers include 1,500 male/female twins (18-65 years) for the online assessments (Phase I and II), 300 twins for the EEG testing component, and 244 twins for the MRI testing component. For Phase III, each twin out of the pair will be randomized to either the treatment or waitlist control group to test the effects of brain training on mental health over a 30-day period, and to confirm the gene-environment and endophenotype contributions to treatment response. Preliminary heritability results are provided for the first 50% of the MRI subgroup (n = 142) for the grey matter volume, thickness, and surface area measures, and white matter diffuse tensor imaging fractional anisotropy.
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