Genetics of developmental psychiatric disorders: pathways to discovery

Genetics of developmental psychiatric disorders: pathways to discovery

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J Psychiatry Neurosci 2006;30(5):349-354

Ridha Joober, MD, PhD; Sarojini Sengupta, PhD; Patricia Boksa, PhD

Douglas Hospital Research Centre, Borough of Verdun, and Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montréal, Que.

Abstract

Genetics has captured the imagination of the public, the interest of the media and a large place in the sciences. Since the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick, the double helix has epitomized the main dogma of genetics: everything from the tiniest details of the human body to the most complex of behaviours is encoded in the genes. This belief has been strengthened by the tremendous success that has been achieved in cloning more than 1000 genes that cause simple Mendelian disorders. However, for complex disorders, particularly psychiatric conditions, the search for genes has been frustrating and has not yielded definitive results, although claims of gene discoveries are made regularly. In this article, we discuss the possible causes for these difficulties, along with some directions that may help in reducing these problems. We also consider the implications of psychiatric genetic research for individual and public health.

Résumé

La génétique captive l’imagination du public et l’intérêt des médias, et occupe une place importante en sciences. Depuis la découverte de la structure de l’ADN par Watson et Crick, la double hélice incarne le principal dogme de la génétique : les gènes codent tout, du détail le plus minuscule du corps humain jusqu’au plus complexe des comportements. La réussite énorme que représente le clonage de plus de 1000 gènes qui causent de simples troubles mendéliens a renforcé cette croyance. Dans le cas des troubles complexes, toutefois, et en particulier des problèmes psychiatriques, la recherche génétique s’est révélée frustrante et n’a pas produit de résultats définitifs, même si l’on affirme régulièrement avoir découvert des gènes. Dans cet article, nous discutons des causes possibles de ces difficultés, ainsi que d’orientations qui peuvent aider à atténuer ces problèmes. Nous tenons aussi compte des répercussions de la recherche psychogénétique sur la personne et sur la santé publique.


Medical subject headings: genetics; complex disorders; schizophrenia; attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity; autistic disorder; models, animal; endophenotype.

Submitted Apr. 25, 2005; Revised July 19, 2005; Accepted July 21, 2005

Competing interests: None declared.

Contributors: All authors contributed substantially to drafting and revising the article, and each gave final approval for the article to be published.

Correspondence to: Dr. Ridha Joober, Douglas Hospital Research Centre, 6875 LaSalle Blvd., Borough of Verdun, Montréal QC H4H 1R3; fax 514 888-4064; ridha.joober@douglas.mcgill.ca