In a new study, researchers conducted a massive genome-wide analysis of approximately 200,000 military veterans.
They identified six genetic variants linked to anxiety.
Some of the genetic variants associated with anxiety had previously been implicated as risk factors for bipolar disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia.
The new study further contributes to the first convincing molecular explanation for why anxiety and depression often coexist.
The research was conducted by a team from Yale and other institutions.
While there have been many studies on the genetic basis of depression, far fewer have looked for variants linked to anxiety, disorders of which afflict as many as 1 in 10 Americans.
Finding the genetic underpinnings of mental health disorders is the primary goal of the Million Veteran Program, a compilation of health and genetic data on U.S. military veterans run by the U.S. Veterans Administration.
The research team analyzed the program’s data and zeroed in on six variants linked to anxiety.
Five were found in European Americans and one found only in African Americans.
Some variants were linked to genes that help govern gene activity or, intriguingly, to a gene involved in the functioning of receptors for the sex hormone estrogen.
While this finding might help explain why women are more than twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety disorders, researchers stressed that the variant affecting estrogen receptors was identified in a veteran cohort made up mostly of men, and said further investigation is necessary.
Another of the newly discovered anxiety gene variants, MAD1L1, whose function is not fully understood, was also highly notable.
Variants of this gene have already been linked to bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia.
The lead author of the study is Joel Gelernter, the Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry, professor of genetics and of neuroscience at Yale.
The study is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
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