According to new research, there may be a connection between bipolar disorder and autism. Although still in the preliminary stages, these findings could provide further evidence of shared genetic roots in certain psychiatric diseases. It is one of the first studies to suggest a specific “overlap” between autism and bipolar disorder.

Is This A Big Deal?

It could be. You see, bipolar disorder (BD) is one of the most common psychiatric conditions. It affects somewhere between 1 and 3 percent of the population. In American alone, that represents over 3 million people.
BD can have a significant impact on quality of life. If you’ve known anyone who suffers from or if you battle BD yourself, this isn’t news to you. And while treatments exist (lithium, for instance), nearly one in three people don’t respond to current therapies.

While medical professionals have known for some time that bipolar disorder is “highly heritable,” it has not been easy to identify specific genetic variations that contribute to the illness. This makes addressing the issue a more daunting challenge.

As more and more advances in the human genome have been made, additional variations have been uncovered. During this study, led by teams from several institutions, groups of families with signs of bipolar disorder were evaluated. Over the course of the study, it was determined that there were links to autism and schizophrenia as well.

The teams employed a case-control approach. This means that if a genetic variant is detected in more people from the group who have the disease versus a control group without the condition, they may be onto something. They are quick to point out that large datasets are crucial for purposes of reliability and validity.

The scientific community remains optimistic that studies like this one will lead to a better understanding of how genetic variations impact humanity. These early, yet encouraging signs may provide a better understanding of psychiatric conditions and that genetic markers may be on the way.

Stay tuned.