University of Vermont

University Communications

Hudziak Investigates Genetic Links to Childhood Psychiatric Disorders

Release Date: 11-13-2009

Author: Jennifer Nachbur
Phone: 802-656-7875 Fax: 802-656-3961

A $3.8 million, two-year American Recovery & Reinvestment Act grant from the National Institute of Mental Health will allow researchers at the University of Vermont (UVM), in partnership with Virje University Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Avera Institute for Human Behavioral Genetics in Sioux Falls, S.D, and University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, to search the entire genomes of 4714 twins and their family members for clues to the genetic factors that contribute to ADHD, anxiety/depression and other childhood behavioral disorders.

James Hudziak, M.D., UVM professor of psychiatry, medicine and pediatrics and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, is the project's principal investigator. He and the research team will rely on a unique application of genetic tools — single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) and copy number variation (CNV) with genome wide association study — to help search for clues to the genetic sources of psychiatric conditions that develop during childhood.

Using DNA samples collected from twin pairs, as well as their siblings and parents, from the Netherlands, the team will examine genes via microarrary technology, which allows researchers to zero in on genes critical to specific disorders and view genetic variations on a computer screen. In their novel joining of the SNP and CNV processes and comparing the genomes of the twins and family members, the team can uncover more specific genetic changes that could lead to the identification of genes or genetic networks that contribute to the risk of the development of child psychiatric disorders.

"We will use genome wide association approaches to look at the possible association of almost one million SNPs with specific behaviors and disorders to identify one small thing that changes in the genome," says Hudziak. "CNV identifies larger genetics changes that you would never pick up by looking at chromosomes using microscopy. This approach will allow us to look at a wide variety of genes involved in a behavioral disorder such as Autism Spectrum Disorder."

The research team hopes the study's results will lead to improved diagnostic and treatment approaches for childhood psychiatric disorders. UVM psychiatry faculty members Robert Althoff, M.D., Ph.D., and David Rettew, M.D., serve as co-investigators on the study.

The NIMH grant, which brings in $2.8 million in funding the first year and $1 million the second year, will create seven new jobs at the three U.S. sites.