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October 15, 2004

Gene Linked to Child Bipolar

A recent study of children with manic-depressive illness (bipolar disorder) has found a gene that may confer susceptibility to this illness, as reported in September's American Journal of Psychiatry.

"As recently as 10 years ago, it was not widely known that the illness existed in children," says Barbara Geller, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. The gene, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF], has been shown to help determine thinking and memory and the response to medications given to people who have bipolar disorder.

Two studies in adults with bipolar disorder, that used similar methods, have also shown that the BDNF gene may confer susceptibility to the illness. This suggests that adults and children may have some overlap in their vulnerability to manic-depression. Children in the study, whose average age was 10, were noted to be more severely ill and to have more persistent symptoms than adults with bipolar disorder. In a companion study, these children were shown to be seriously ill with manic-depression two-thirds of the time during a four-year follow-up period.

This longitudinal study, reported in the May Archives of General Psychiatry and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, does much to dispel the mistaken notion that children cannot have manic-depression. Dr. Geller's colleagues on these studies were Edwin H. Cook, Jr, M.D., Judith A. Badner, M.D., Ph.D., Rebecca Tillman, M.S., James L. Craney, M.P.H., J.D., Susan L. Christian, Ph.D., and Kristine Bolhofner, B.S.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis


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