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New light on brain mechanisms in Bipolar Disorder

17 August 2008

Not for release before: Sunday, August 17, 2008

6:00 pm British Summer Time 1:00pm Eastern Daylight Time

Bipolar Disorder may be linked to the control of the activity of brain cells, according to a new genetic study led by scientists at Cardiff University, the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

Bipolar Disorder is characterised by severe disturbances in mood ranging from depression to elation and can cause deep suffering in at least 1 per cent of the population.

In the largest analysis of its kind to date for Bipolar Disorder, genes from more than 10,000 people were studied by the team, led jointly by Professor Nick Craddock of the School of Medicine, Cardiff University and Drs Pamela Sklar and Shaun Purcell of Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute in the US. The study involved collaborating groups in the UK, Europe and US, including the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium (WTCCC).

The researchers examined about 1.8 million genetic variations in 10,596 people - including 4,387 with Bipolar Disorder.

The scientists found an association between Bipolar Disorder and two genes which help make proteins that control the activity of nerve cells by managing the flow of sodium and calcium ions into and out of the cells.

A gene called Ankyrin 3 (ANK3) showed the strongest association with bipolar disorder. The ANK3 protein is part of the cellular machinery which controls the activity of cells. The second strongest association was found in a gene responsible for channels controlling calcium flow in the brain.

The results point to the possibility that Bipolar Disorder might stem, at least in part, from malfunction of these brain mechanisms.

Professor Craddock, of the School’s Department of Psychological Medicine, said: "The activity of nerve cells depends upon a delicate chemical balance. We do not know yet if the newly-discovered genetic variations affect the balance, and if so, how. However, finding these genetic associations is very significant and we hope will, in time, pave the way towards new kinds of treatment."

One of the problems with bipolar disorder research is that it is thought to involve many different gene variants, each exerting relatively small effects. Researchers therefore need large samples to detect relatively weak signals of illness association and are keen for more people with bipolar disorder to help with the research.

Professor Craddock and a large group of international collaborators report on their findings online on August 17, 2008 in Nature Genetics.


Notes to Editors:

1. The paper will be published electronically on the Nature Genetics website on August 17 at 1800 British Summer Time/ 1300 US Eastern time.

2. Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities. It is also ranked as one of the world’s top 100 universities by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES).

2008 marks the 125th anniversary of Cardiff University having been founded by Royal Charter in 1883. Today the University 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 the UK’s leading research universities.

Visit the University website at:

3. 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 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.

Further Information:

For further information, please contact:

Professor Nick Craddock

Department of Psychological Medicine

The Henry Wellcome Building for Biomedical Research in Wales

School of Medicine

Cardiff University

02920 687067


Stephen Rouse,

Public Relations Office,

Cardiff University.

029 2087 5596

mobile 07976 513386