Psychiatric disorders and brain white matter exhibit genetic overlap implicating developmental and neural cell biology

Nadine Parker, Weiqiu Cheng, Guy F. L. Hindley, Pravesh Parekh, Alexey A. Shadrin, Ivan I. Maximov, Olav B. Smeland, Srdjan Djurovic, Anders M. Dale, Lars T. Westlye, Oleksandr Frei, Ole A. Andreassen

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Improved understanding of the shared genetic architecture between psychiatric disorders and brain white matter may provide mechanistic insights for observed phenotypic associations. Our objective is to characterize the shared genetic architecture of bipolar disorder (BD), major depression (MD), and schizophrenia (SZ) with white matter fractional anisotropy (FA) and identify shared genetic loci to uncover biological underpinnings. We used genome-wide association study (GWAS) summary statistics for BD (n = 413,466), MD (n = 420,359), SZ (n = 320,404), and white matter FA (n = 33,292) to uncover the genetic architecture (i.e., polygenicity and discoverability) of each phenotype and their genetic overlap (i.e., genetic correlations, overlapping trait-influencing variants, and shared loci). This revealed that BD, MD, and SZ are at least 7-times more polygenic and less genetically discoverable than average FA. Even in the presence of weak genetic correlations (range = −0.05 to −0.09), average FA shared an estimated 42.5%, 43.0%, and 90.7% of trait-influencing variants as well as 12, 4, and 28 shared loci with BD, MD, and SZ, respectively. Shared variants were mapped to genes and tested for enrichment among gene-sets which implicated neurodevelopmental expression, neural cell types, myelin, and cell adhesion molecules. For BD and SZ, case vs control tract-level differences in FA associated with genetic correlations between those same tracts and the respective disorder (r BD = 0.83, p = 4.99e-7 and r SZ = 0.65, p = 5.79e-4). Genetic overlap at the tract-level was consistent with average FA results. Overall, these findings suggest a genetic basis for the involvement of brain white matter aberrations in the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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