First-degree relatives of patients with bipolar disorder (BD), particularly their offspring, have a higher risk of developing BD and other mental illnesses than the general population. However, the biological mechanisms underlying this increased risk are still unknown, particularly because most of the studies so far have been conducted in chronically ill adults and not in unaffected youth at high risk. In this preliminary study we analyzed genome-wide expression and methylation levels in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from children and adolescents from three matched groups: BD patients, unaffected offspring of bipolar parents (high risk) and controls (low risk). By integrating gene expression and DNA methylation and comparing the lists of differentially expressed genes and differentially methylated probes between groups, we were able to identify 43 risk genes that discriminate patients and high-risk youth from controls. Pathway analysis showed an enrichment of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) pathway with the genes MED1, HSPA1L, GTF2A1 and TAF15, which might underlie the previously reported role of stress response in the risk for BD in vulnerable populations. Cell-based assays indicate a GR hyporesponsiveness in cells from adult BD patients compared to controls and suggest that these GR-related genes can be modulated by DNA methylation, which poses the theoretical possibility of manipulating their expression as a means to counteract the familial risk presented by those subjects. Although preliminary, our results suggest the utility of peripheral measures in the identification of biomarkers of risk in high-risk populations and further emphasize the potential role of stress and DNA methylation in the risk for BD in youth.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Biological Psychiatry