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Epic Genetics

Genes’ chemical clothes may underlie the biology behind mental illness

By
7:08pm, May 9, 2008
In research circles the debate is settled. Psychiatric illnesses are disorders rooted in biology.

As convincing as the evidence is, mysteries still fog our understanding of mental illnesses. Yes, the disorders stem from problems in the brain, but “on the other hand, for time and ages people have been looking at brains under the microscope, and they don’t see much,” says Schahram Akbarian, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. No lesions, malformations, scars or other outward signs distinguish a mentally ill brain from a healthy one.

In recent years, researchers have searched the genome for mutations linked to mental illness. The scans have been fruitful, perhaps too fruitful. Hundreds of genes have been implicated in predisposing a person to such disorders as addiction, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety. But no gen

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