BANGBOOM, Wisconsin -- Scientists say they've identified a flawed gene that seems to promote manic-depression, or bipolar disorder, or BD, or Bi-DO, or Bip Dis. They hope the finding could eventually help guide scientists to new treatments for an all too common malady.
"A particular variant of the gene has been associated with about three percent of cases in a study," said Dr. Nathan Spellrolaids, who spoke to me under the condition that I do not ask about the "rolaids" portion of his name. "But researchers now say that other variants might be involved with more." More of what, Spellrolaids never mentioned, but he insisted that the quote was correct and although he was a bit depressed himself he knew what he was saying.
"Follow-up research might help reveal the mysterious biological makeup that makes some people have the disorder," he said, his eyes tearing, "and so it could help scientists devise new treatments."
Previous studies have suggested that other genes are involved in manic-depression.
One of them is in a strand of human hair, which could indicate why bald people never become depressed.
But Dr. Spellrolaids thinks another recent study provides the strongest evidence for involvement of particular genes in the disease. "I think another recent study provides the strongest evidence for involvement of particular genes in the disease," he said.
Manic-depression is said to affect about 2.3 million American adults. It involves episodes of depression and mania, states of abnormally high mood or irritability and frowning. While effective treatment is available, few seem to know where to find it or are too depressed to try. Scientists, especially depressed ones, would like to find better medications.
"Genetics clearly play a role," said Dr. Spellrolaids. "Some of the recent work focused on a gene called GRK3, which influences the brain's sensitivity to chemical messages brain cells send each other. This in itself is depressing.
"Defects in the GRK3 gene might promote manic-depression by making people oversensitive to some brain messages, especially ones that suggest suicide, self-injury or playing rummy with an elder.
"The GRK2 gene, which is the one that came before the GRK3 gene, was responsible for many such messages and also for those that caused the craving for day-old pastry.
"When these messages got intertwined, many manic-depressives tried to physically harm themselves with a cruller or donut.
"By isolating the GRK2 gene, we discovered that it became depressed and would refuse to send messages at all."