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Bipolar Disorder Drugs May 'Tweak' Genes Affecting Brain
Date:4/25/2013

By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, April 25 (HealthDay News) -- Medications taken by people with bipolar disorder may actually be nudging hundreds of genes that direct the brain to behave more normally, according to new research.

The study suggests that antipsychotic drugs activate a wide range of genes, changing their function, said lead author Dr. Melvin McInnis.

"A gene's activity in any given cell will vary depending on what it's exposed to," said McInnis, a professor of bipolar disorder and depression at the School of Medicine at the University of Michigan.

It's not often that scientists stumble upon something in research that they totally weren't expecting to see. "It was a major surprise to us that people treated with an antipsychotic [medication] had changes in the gene expression pattern," McInnis said.

The findings could help point the way to new gene-targeted and stem cell therapies, and provide valuable insight into what causes manic-depressive mood swings, he added.

However, a genetics expert not connected to the study was more cautious about drawing implications from its findings.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, affects about 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population aged 18 and older, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The brain disorder causes severe and unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out routine daily tasks.

The new research, published in a recent issue of the journal Bipolar Disorders, involved examining 26 brains donated to a nonprofit brain bank. Fourteen of the brains were from people who had bipolar disorder. Of those, seven were from people who had been taking one or more antipsychotic medications -- such as clozapine, risperidone and haloperidol -- when they died. Twelve brains were from those with no
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