A large study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, has found that veterans have six genetic variants that are linked to anxiety, while some of these variants were considered potential risk factors of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Researchers from Yale University looked at the health and genetic data of more than 200,000 military veterans through the Million Veteran Program (MVP) that is operated by the U.S. Veteran Administration.
Study co-author Joel Gelernter said, “This is the richest set of results for the genetic basis of anxiety to date. There has been no explanation for the comorbidity of anxiety and depression and other mental health disorders, but here we have found specific, shared genetic risks.”
The main goal of the MVP is to discover the veterans’ genetic picture of mental health disorders.
The researchers identified six genetic variants associated with anxiety, of which five were identified in European Americans and on in African Americans.
Senior study author Murray Stein said, “While there have been many studies on the genetic basis of depression, far fewer have looked for variants linked to anxiety, disorders of which afflict as many as 1 in 10 Americans.”
The authors explained that one genetic variant was linked to the functioning of the receptors associated with the sex hormone estrogen. This finding might help the researchers to explain why women are more vulnerable to anxiety disorder than men are.
However, they emphasized that this variant was mostly identified in male veterans, which is why they explained that further studies are needed to dig more on the topic.
The researchers also discovered one particular genetic variant called MAD1L1 that is linked to anxiety. It was highly notable but its function was not fully understood. This genetic variant has already been linked to PTSD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Another co-author of the study Daniel Levey said, “One of the goals of this research is to find important risk genes that are associated with risk for many psychiatric and behavioral traits for which we don’t have a good explanation.” Gelernter said, “This is a rich vein we have just begun to tap.”