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Hum Genet. 2009 Feb;125(1):63-79. doi: 10.1007/s00439-008-0600-y. Epub 2008 Dec 4.

Pathways-based analyses of whole-genome association study data in bipolar disorder reveal genes mediating ion channel activity and synaptic neurotransmission.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Butler Hospital, 345 Blackstone Blvd., Providence, RI 02906, USA.


Despite known heritability, the complex genetic architecture of bipolar disorder (likely including trait, locus and allelic heterogeneity, as well as genetic interactions) has confounded genetic discovery for many years. Even modern day whole genome association studies (WGAS) using over half a million common SNPs have implicated only a handful of genes at the genomewide level. Temporally coincident with this series of WGAS, a host of pathways-based analyses (PBAs) have emerged as novel computational approaches in the examination of large-scale datasets, but thus far rarely have been applied to WGAS data in psychiatric disorders. Here, we report a series of PBAs conducted using exploratory visual analysis, an analytic and visualization software tool for examining genomic data, to examine results from the National Institutes of Mental Health and Wellcome-Trust Case Control Consortium WGAS in bipolar disorder. Consistent with a host of prior linkage findings, some candidate gene association studies, and recent WGAS, our strongest findings suggest involvement of ion channel structural and regulatory genes, including voltage-gated ion channels and the broader ion channel group that comprises both voltage- and ligand-gated channels. Moreover, we found only modest overlap in the particular genes driving the significance of these gene sets across the analyses. This observation strongly suggests that variation in ion channel genes, as a class of genes, may contribute to the susceptibility of bipolar disorder and that heterogeneity may figure prominently in the genetic architecture of this susceptibility.

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