Psychiatric genetics, a subfield of behavioral neurogenetics, studies the contribution of genetic factors to risk of disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and major depression. The underlying rationale is that most psychiatric disorders are highly heritable - meaning that a majority of the risk of having a diagnosis is due to genetic factors shared between relatives. The immediate goal of psychiatric genetics is to gain biological insights into the etiology of psychiatric disorders. The ultimate goal is to use that knowledge to inform the development of evidence-based treatments with improved efficacy and fewer side effects. In other words, the goal is to transform parts of psychiatry into a neuroscience-based discipline.

Our research in psychiatric genetics involves the application of novel statistical methods to high-throughput genome-wide datasets, such as that from large genome-wide association studies. A major focus is to better understand the genetic architecture of psychiatric disorders, including genetic overlap between different disorders (i.e. pleiotropy) and genetic and phenotypic heterogeneity within disorders. A related goal is to integrate methylation, RNA expression and other -omics data in order to develop more powerful genomics-based predictors that incorporate variation due to disease-relevant environmental exposures. Three key studies are in collaboration with the CRC for living with autism spectrum disorders, perinatal depression in collaboration with the international PPD ACT consortium, and major depression. This theme is led by Dr Enda Byrne.

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