In the past decade, the identification of susceptibility genes for psychiatric disorders has become routine, but understanding the biology underlying these discoveries has proven extremely difficult. The large number of potential risk genes and the genetic overlap between disorders are major obstacles for studying the etiology of these conditions. Systems biology approaches relying on gene ontologies, gene coexpression, and protein-protein interactions are used to identify convergence of the genes in relation to biological processes, cell types, brain areas, and developmental stages. Across psychiatric disorders, there is a clear enrichment for genes expressed in the brain and especially in the cortex, but a higher resolution is vastly dependent on sample size and statistical power. There is indication that susceptibility genes tend to be expressed in the brain during periods preceding the typical onset of the disorders. Thus, the role of genes in prenatal brain development is more pronounced for childhood-onset disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but is much less so for bipolar disorder and depression. One of the most consistent findings across multiple disorders and classes of genetic variants is the role of genes intolerant to mutations in psychiatric disorders, yet this association is more pronounced for disorders with a clear neurodevelopmental component. Notwithstanding, a detailed understanding of the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders is still lacking. It is possible that it will only be revealed by studying the risk genes at the level of the development and function of neuronal networks and circuits.
Keywords: Convergence; Exome sequencing; Functional genomics; Genes intolerant to mutations; Genome-wide association studies; Psychiatric disorders; Rare variants; Systems biology.
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