One of the most consistent genetic findings to have emerged from bipolar disorder genome wide association studies (GWAS) is with CACNA1C, a gene that codes for the α(1C) subunit of the Ca(v)1.2 voltage-dependent L-type calcium channel (LTCC). Genetic variation in CACNA1C have also been associated with depression, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, as well as changes in brain function and structure in control subjects who have no diagnosable psychiatric illness. These data are consistent with a continuum of shared neurobiological vulnerability between diverse-Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) defined-neuropsychiatric diseases. While involved in numerous cellular functions, Ca(v)1.2 is most frequently implicated in coupling of cell membrane depolarization to transient increase of the membrane permeability for calcium, leading to activation and, potentially, changes in intracellular signaling pathway activity, gene transcription, and synaptic plasticity. Ca(v)1.2 is involved in the proper function of numerous neurological circuits including those involving the hippocampus, amygdala, and mesolimbic reward system, which are strongly implicated in psychiatric disease pathophysiology. A number of behavioral effects of LTCC inhibitors have been described including antidepressant-like behavioral actions in rodent models. Clinical studies suggest possible treatment effects in a subset of patients with mood disorders. We review the genetic structure and variation of CACNA1C, discussing relevant human genetic and clinical findings, as well as the biological actions of Ca(v)1.2 that are most relevant to psychiatric illness.
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