An analysis of the genomes of over 33,000 people with psychiatric disorders and comparing them to around 27,000 people in a control group researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found common Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, or SNP's which are minute mutations found in the population, between many mental diseases.

By looking at SNPs scientists saw that Autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia share similar single nucleotide differences in common. The gene variants associated with all five of the disorders were found on chromosomes 3 and 10 in the genes CACNA1C and CACNB2. The genes serve functions in calcium channel based regulation in cells.

"This study indicates that some specific genetic variants confer risk to a range of psychiatric disorders that are treated as clinically distinct," study researcher Jordan Smoller, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told Psychiatric Annals. "The findings also highlight the role of calcium channel genes, which may provide a treatment target that is relevant to a range of psychiatric disorders."

Previously, CACA1C has been linked to bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia. Because the neurons in the brain function and transmit signals by calcium and different ion gradients to make the electrical signals calcium signaling seems a likely contributing factor in mental illness.

"Significant progress has been made in understanding the genetic risk factors underlying psychiatric disorders," Smoller said. "Our results provide new evidence that may inform a move beyond descriptive syndromes in psychiatry and towards classification based on underlying causes."

In the accompanying editorial to the article other researchers in the field stated the following.

"We therefore believe that genetics, possibly thanks to more comprehensive phenotype and endophenotype assessments, can contribute to prediction and prevention of psychiatric diseases, along with the identification of molecular targets for new generations of psychotropic drugs."

Hopefully this and other large scale genetic analyses will allow researchers to determine if a genetic risk factor can be found and maybe treated.

The report was published in the journal The Lancet can be found here.