Background: Whether schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are the clinical outcomes of discrete or shared causative processes is much debated in psychiatry. We aimed to assess genetic and environmental contributions to liability for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and their comorbidity.
Methods: We linked the multi-generation register, which contains information about all children and their parents in Sweden, and the hospital discharge register, which includes all public psychiatric inpatient admissions in Sweden. We identified 9 009 202 unique individuals in more than 2 million nuclear families between 1973 and 2004. Risks for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and their comorbidity were assessed for biological and adoptive parents, offspring, full-siblings and half-siblings of probands with one of the diseases. We used a multivariate generalised linear mixed model for analysis of genetic and environmental contributions to liability for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the comorbidity.
Findings: First-degree relatives of probands with either schizophrenia (n=35 985) or bipolar disorder (n=40 487) were at increased risk of these disorders. Half-siblings had a significantly increased risk (schizophrenia: relative risk [RR] 3.6, 95% CI 2.3-5.5 for maternal half-siblings, and 2.7, 1.9-3.8 for paternal half-siblings; bipolar disorder: 4.5, 2.7-7.4 for maternal half-siblings, and 2.4, 1.4-4.1 for paternal half-siblings), but substantially lower than that of the full-siblings (schizophrenia: 9.0, 8.5-11.6; bipolar disorder: 7.9, 7.1-8.8). When relatives of probands with bipolar disorder were analysed, increased risks for schizophrenia existed for all relationships, including adopted children to biological parents with bipolar disorder. Heritability for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder was 64% and 59%, respectively. Shared environmental effects were small but substantial (schizophrenia: 4.5%, 4.4%-7.4%; bipolar disorder: 3.4%, 2.3%-6.2%) for both disorders. The comorbidity between disorders was mainly (63%) due to additive genetic effects common to both disorders.
Interpretation: Similar to molecular genetic studies, we showed evidence that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder partly share a common genetic cause. These results challenge the current nosological dichotomy between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and are consistent with a reappraisal of these disorders as distinct diagnostic entities.