The heritability of bipolar affective disorder and the genetic relationship to unipolar depression

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003 May;60(5):497-502. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.60.5.497.


Background: Twin studies of bipolar affective disorder (BPD) have either been small or have not used explicit diagnostic criteria. There has been little use of genetic model fitting and no analyses to explore the etiological overlap with unipolar depression (UPD).

Methods: Sixty-seven twin pairs, 30 monozygotic and 37 dizygotic, in which the proband had BPD were ascertained, and lifetime diagnoses were made using DSM-IV criteria. Univariate models were applied to estimate the contribution of additive genetic and environmental effects. Bipolar data were then combined with those from 68 monozygotic and 109 dizygotic pairs in which the proband had UPD. Two models were explored: a classic 2-threshold approach, in which BPD and UPD occupy the same continuum of liability but differ in severity, and a correlated liability model of mania and depression.

Results: Heritability of BPD was estimated at 85% (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.73-0.93) using narrow concordance and 89% (95% CI, 0.61-1.0) using broad concordance, with no shared environmental effects detected. A 2-threshold model was an unsatisfactory fit. Fitting a correlated liability model revealed a genetic correlation of 0.65 (95% CI, 0.58-0.75) between mania and depression and a correlation of 0.59 (95% CI, 0.15-0.84) for nonfamilial environment. Approximately 71% of the genetic variance for mania was not shared with depression.

Conclusions: As defined by the DSM-IV, BPD is highly heritable. There are substantial genetic and nonshared environmental correlations between mania and depression, but most of the genetic variance in liability to mania is specific to the manic syndrome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis
  • Bipolar Disorder / genetics*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / genetics*
  • Diseases in Twins / genetics*
  • Family
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Humans
  • London
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Registries
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Social Environment
  • Twins, Dizygotic / genetics
  • Twins, Monozygotic / genetics