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Genomic perspectives on the circadian clock hypothesis of psychiatric disorders.

Circadian rhythm disturbances are frequently described in psychiatric disorders such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Growing evidence suggests a biological connection between mental health and circadian rhythmicity, including the circadian influence on brain function and mood and the requirement for circadian entrainment by external factors, which is often impaired in mental illness. Mental (as well as physical) health is also adversely affected by circadian misalignment. The marked interindividual differences in this combined susceptibility, in addition to the phenotypic spectrum in traits related both to circadian rhythms and mental health, suggested the possibility of a shared genetic background and that circadian clock genes may also be candidate genes for psychiatric disorders. This hypothesis was further strengthened by observations in animal models where clock genes had been knocked out or mutated. The introduction of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) enabled hypothesis-free testing. GWAS analysis of chronotype confirmed the prominent role of circadian genes in these phenotypes and their extensive polygenicity. However, in GWAS on psychiatric traits, only one clock gene, ARNTL (BMAL1) was identified as one of the few loci differentiating bipolar disorder from schizophrenia, and macaque monkeys where the ARNTL gene has been knocked out display symptoms similar to schizophrenia. Another lesson from genomic analyses is that chronotype has an important genetic correlation with several psychiatric disorders and that this effect is unidirectional. We conclude that the effect of circadian disturbances on psychiatric disorders probably relates to modulation of rhythm parameters and extend beyond the core clock genes themselves.

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