A novel, free, public online database opening recently
should greatly speed efforts to find genes
linked to increased risk of bipolar disorder. The Bipolar
Disorder Phenome Database — a joint project
of Johns Hopkins Psychiatry and the National Institute of
Mental Health — is the first of its kind,
offering detailed descriptions of symptoms and course of
disease on more than 5,000 people with
bipolar illness, a mood disorder commonly marked by
alternating bouts of depression and manic or
Because DNA samples are available for this group, the
database will let researchers correlate
specific symptoms with sequences of genetic material. The
new database, available at
bioinformoodics/index.html is meant to complement the
massive bodies of genetic data generated already by the
Human Genome Project, the International HapMap Consortium
and the Genetic Analysis Information Network.
"This database describes the clinical picture of
bipolar disorder in the fullest detail possible,"
said James Potash, who led the Johns Hopkins portion of
efforts to assemble the site. "It also lets us
pick out meaningful clusters of symptoms that will
ultimately help identify genes."
Using this newer clinical subtyping approach to gene
hunting, scientists winnow out "pure" groups
of patients with a key characteristic, like those whose
bipolar disorder begins earlier than usual, or
those who also experience panic attacks. Suspect stretches
of DNA, including genes, are more likely
to stand out in such groups. The approach has been
effective in finding genes associated with
Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer, Potash says.
Collecting accurate descriptions of patients in large
enough numbers to ensure reliable results
is costly and time-consuming, he adds. The Bipolar Disorder
Phenome Database lets researchers tap
into information from two national studies of bipolar
disorder families collected over 20 years through
patient surveys and interviews. The studies included
patients with well-documented bipolar disorder
who had first-degree relatives with a major mood
Described this month in The American Journal of
Psychiatry, the database is one of two now
available at the
Johns Hopkins' BioinforMOODics Web site.
A second offering on the BioinforMOODics site —
QuickSNP — is also set up to streamline gene
searches but, unlike the bipolar disorder database, it
isn't specific to mood disorders research.
The tool enables users to intelligently select the
specific DNA signposts or markers — the single
nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs — present in
specific chromosome regions most likely to yield
meaningful results. It also tells researchers if genes they
want to study are represented on
commercially available gene chips.
Setup of the Bipolar Disorder Phenome Database was
funded by NIMH grants. Earlier data-
providing studies were also funded by the Charles A. Dana
Foundation, the Stanley Medical Research
Institute and a NARSAD Young Investigator award.
The Johns Hopkins research team included Peter P.
Zandi, Dean MacKinnon, Jennifer Toolan, Jo
Steele, Erin Miller and Justin Pearl. Deepak Grover and
Alonzo Woodfield helped devise the QuickSNP