While several studies have shown that autoimmune diseases are associated with psychiatric diseases like depression and psychosis, recent research lead by Dr Konstantinos Voskarides, Associate Professor of Genetics and Molecular Biology at UNIC Medical School, investigated whether genetic variants predisposing to autoimmune diseases and psychiatric disorders are genetically linked, constructing the common haplotypes. The study was recently published in the Brain and Behaviour journal and two of the co-authors, Nefeli Giannopoulou and Rasha Eid, are current medical students at UNIC.

The study did, indeed, show that autoimmune diseases and psychiatric diseases are genetically linked. Genetic haplotypes were constructed, showing this genetic linkage in detail.

The study was based on two pillars: it investigated all the genetic variants that have been associated with the most commonly studied autoimmune rheumatic and endocrine diseases, for any genetically linked variants/alleles predisposing to a psychiatric disease (genetic linkage is the tendency of nearby genetic alleles to be inherited together during the meiosis phase), and it used the found linked genetic variants to construct genetic haplotypes (a genetic haplotype is a group of alleles inherited together by children from parents) that can potentially be useful for predicting the risk of a psychiatric disorder for individuals suffering from an autoimmune disease.

Although the study did not exclude any psychiatric traits for this investigation, most connections were associated with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

This study did not exclude any populational ancestries, however most published genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have been performed in populations of European ancestry. The team’s results documented haplotype frequencies for all human populations, together and separately, for European ancestry populations.

Dr Voskarides said ‘to the best of our knowledge, Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, ankylosing spondylitis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and systemic sclerosis are being investigated for the first time for common genetic haplotypes with any psychiatric disease. The study shows that autoimmune and psychiatric diseases are genetically linked.

The construction of risk haplotypes has shown this genetic linkage in detail. This observation highlights the significance of comorbidity investigation under the view of genetic linkage. We plan to continue our research efforts by aiming to generate more genetic haplotypes that could be combined with environmental factors, in order to predict more accurately the risk of developing psychiatric comorbidities in patients with autoimmune diseases.’