Mood Disorders Tend to Evolve over Time. (Raised Expression of Genetic Predisposition)

By Jancin, Bruce | Clinical Psychiatry News, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Mood Disorders Tend to Evolve over Time. (Raised Expression of Genetic Predisposition)


Jancin, Bruce, Clinical Psychiatry News


ASPEN, COLO. -- Depression and other mood disorders not only tend to become more frequent and severe in vulnerable individuals over the course of a lifetime, but the same trend increasingly is occurring within society at large, Dr. Steven L. Dubovsky said at a psychiatry conference sponsored by the University of Colorado.

Indeed, the incidence of mood disorders has increased with every generation since the beginning of the 20th century. Onset is occurring earlier in life, and cases are becoming more severe.

"Bipolar disorder is on the increase, and this is not just a function of diagnostic fads. There does seem to be a true increase in the number of cases--especially of severe early-onset mood disorders," said Dr. Dubovsky, professor and vice chairman of psychiatry and professor of medicine at the university in Denver.

The likely explanation involves increased expression of a genetic predisposition to affective disorders triggered by environmental modifiers of disease vulerability. Various studies have concluded that 21%-45% of the risk of developing a mood disorder can be explained by genetics, with the remainder of the variance being environmental.

Some of the genetic risk involves people placing themselves in depression-promoting circumstances, such as repeatedly being attracted to the sort of people who will abandon them, the psychiatrist continued.

Because mood disorders progress over time, the more patients experience an abnormal mood, the easier it becomes for them to fall into it again later. Their personality becomes organized around it. They start self-medicating with alcohol and/or drugs, and the brain becomes less resilient.

Brain imaging studies have shown loss of hippocampal and frontal lobe volumes in patients with unipolar depression or bipolar disorder, with the extent of loss reflecting duration of illness rather than patient age. …

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