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Veteran Study Finds Genetic Basis for Anxiety

A large genetic analysis of approximately 200,000 military veterans has identified six genetic variants linked to anxiety. Some of these variants had previously been implicated as risk factors for bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and schizophrenia.

The study, led by a research team from Yale University, is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

“This is the richest set of results for the genetic basis of anxiety to date,” said co-lead author Joel Gelernter, the Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry, professor of genetics and of neuroscience at Yale. “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.”

Discovering the genetic basis of mental health disorders is the main goal of the Million Veteran Program, a record of health and genetic data on U.S. military veterans run by the U.S. Veterans Administration.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the program’s data and zeroed in on six variants linked to anxiety. Five were found in European Americans and one was found only in African Americans.

“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,” said senior author Murray Stein, San Diego VA staff psychiatrist and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

Some variants were associated with genes that help direct gene activity or, intriguingly, were linked to a gene involved in the functioning of receptors for the sex hormone estrogen. While this finding might help explain why women are more than twice as likely as men to experience anxiety disorders, researchers stressed that this variant was identified in a mostly-male veteran group, and that further studies are needed.

In particular, one of the newly discovered anxiety gene variants, called MAD1L1, whose function is not yet fully understood, was also highly notable. Variants of this gene have already been linked to bipolar disorder, PTSD and schizophrenia.

“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,” said Yale’s Daniel Levey, a postdoctoral associate and co-lead author of the study.

To conduct the study, Yale’s researchers teamed up with colleagues at the Veteran Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System, VA San Diego Healthcare System, and the University of California San Diego.

“This is a rich vein we have just begun to tap,” said Gelernter.

Source: Yale University

Veteran Study Finds Genetic Basis for Anxiety

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Veteran Study Finds Genetic Basis for Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jan 2020
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