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Genes located for severe mental illness in new mothers

04 July 2007

Researchers at Cardiff University have found the location of genes which can make women vulnerable to severe psychiatric illness and even suicidal just after childbirth.

The discovery offers new hope for treating a condition which has devastating effects for new mothers, their children and their wider families.

The condition of puerperal (or postpartum) psychosis comes on in some women within a few days of giving birth. It is one of the most severe forms of mental illness and can have serious implications. One of the most tragic consequences is suicide - now the most common cause of maternal death in the UK. Women with bipolar disorder are at particularly high risk with as many as one in three deliveries followed by an episode of postpartum psychosis.

Now a study, funded by the Wellcome Trust and involving a collaboration between Cardiff University, Birmingham University and Trinity College, Dublin, has helped pinpoint the genetic cause of the disease.

The team examined the DNA of families in which at least one woman had suffered with an episode of postpartum psychosis. The researchers have found the location of the genes involved in the illness and are now homing in on the genes themselves.

The research will help pave the way towards improved identification of women at risk and better treatments for women who suffer episodes following childbirth.

Dr Ian Jones, Senior Lecturer in Perinatal Psychiatry at Cardiff University School of Medicine, who led the research along with Professor Nick Craddock, said: "It is vital that women at high risk of severe postpartum illness are aware of the importance of this issue. Although a lot of work still needs to be done, this study will lead to significant benefits for women vulnerable to becoming ill following childbirth.

"Many of the medications used to keep women with bipolar disorder well can be a problem in pregnancy. Finding these genes will allow us to better identify bipolar women at very high risk and will help them and their doctors make the difficult decisions about taking medications through pregnancy."

The team’s findings are published this week in the internationally-respected American Journal of Psychiatry.


Notes to Editors:

1. Postpartum psychosis is not the same illness as post-natal depression. Postpartum psychosis is a less common disease, affecting approximately one woman in 500, but more severe in its effects.

Cardiff University
Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, the University today combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff is a member of the Russell Group of Britain’s leading research universities.

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Cardiff School of Medicine

Cardiff University’s School of Medicine is a significant contributor to healthcare in Wales, a major provider of professional staff for the National Health Service and an international centre of excellence for research delivering substantial health benefits locally and internationally. The school’s 770 staff include 500 research and academic staff who teach more than 1900 students, including 950 postgraduate students.

The School is an international leader in basic and clinically applied research activities and scored highly in the most recent Government Research Assessment Exercise. School of Medicine researchers annually win tens of millions of pounds in research awards to work with Government, the healthcare industries and the charitable sector on the most pressing issues of human health. The School has six interdisciplinary research groups to draw upon its own strength in depth and the vast range of expertise available across Cardiff University. These groups are addressing cancer; health sciences research; cardiovascular sciences; genomic approaches to health and disease; infection, immunity and inflammation; metabolism repair and regeneration.


Further Information:

For further information, please contact:

Dr Ian Jones
Senior Lecturer in Perinatal Psychiatry
Department of Psychological Medicine
School of Medicine
Cardiff University
Tel: 44 (0)2920 744663 / 4010

Stephen Rouse,
Public Relations Office,
Cardiff University.
029 2087 5596