Brain and behavior

Candidate gene associations with mood disorder, cognitive vulnerability, and fronto-limbic volumes.

PMID 24944871


Four of the most consistently replicated variants associated with mood disorder occur in genes important for synaptic function: ANK3 (rs10994336), BDNF (rs6265), CACNA1C (rs1006737), and DGKH (rs1170191). The present study examined associations between these candidates, mood disorder diagnoses, cognition, and fronto-limbic regions implicated in affect regulation. Participants included 128 individuals with bipolar disorder (33% male, Mean age = 38.5), 48 with major depressive disorder (29% male, Mean age = 40.4), and 149 healthy controls (35% male, Mean age = 36.5). Genotypes were determined by 5'-fluorogenic exonuclease assays (TaqMan®). Fronto-limbic volumes were obtained from high resolution brain images using Freesurfer. Chi-square analyses, bivariate correlations, and mediational models examined relationships between genetic variants, mood diagnoses, cognitive measures, and brain volumes. Carriers of the minor BDNF and ANK3 alleles showed nonsignificant trends toward protective association in controls relative to mood disorder patients (P = 0.047). CACNA1C minor allele carriers had larger bilateral caudate, insula, globus pallidus, frontal pole, and nucleus accumbens volumes (smallest r = 0.13, P = 0.043), and increased IQ (r = 0.18, P < 0.001). CACNA1C associations with brain volumes and IQ were independent; larger fronto-limbic volumes did not mediate increased IQ. Other candidate variants were not significantly associated with diagnoses, cognition, or fronto-limbic volumes. CACNA1C may be associated with biological systems altered in mood disorder. Increases in fronto-limbic volumes and cognitive ability associated with CACNA1C minor allele genotypes are congruent with findings in healthy samples and may be a marker for increased risk for neuropsychiatric phenotypes. Even larger multimodal studies are needed to quantify the magnitude and specificity of genetic-imaging-cognition-symptom relationships.