This post is about a finding common biology among a bunch of different conditions.
Calcium channel signalling gene variants are a common denominator in five disorders previously categorized in the DSM as different conditions: autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia, according to a recent report in the Lancet. This is consistent with previous research (see, e.g., our post, “Acute schizophrenia paranoia blues or calcium channelopathy?” )
And, in a different study on pieces of rodent brain, alcohol impairs vasopressin release by tamping down on ion-gated channels, even after only a brief exposure to alcohol. Our interpretation (in our usual leaping-to-unfounded-conclusion fashion): alcoholics burn out their social-peptide releasing cells (because vasopressin is key in social behavior, plus we speculate that the same thing will be true for another key social peptide, oxytocin, and its releasing cells).
So it’s the ion-gated channels. This would explain a lot. Perhaps low empathy in general is side-effect of channelopathy.
We sort of suspected that ion-gated channels would be associated with global dysfunctions in brain cells. Calcium channels and other ion-channels and their regulatory elements control what goes into and out of cells (or parts of cells), so of course messing with that would really do a number in the brain. So we can see how ion-channel genetics could play a role in a variety of conditions that the DSM classifies as totally different.
This is not to rule out the zillions of other biological conditions that also play a role. But, at least now people are willing to categorize conditions according to objective biology rather than subjective behavioral interpretation.
Defining biological conditions according to behavior — and behavior that is interpreted subjectively no less — doesn’t optimally advance the ball as far as developing treatments. We’ve complained about this before — that when you categorize mental health conditions according to behavior, rather than the underlying biology, you’ll result in misfired treatments. So, we proposed a DSM-A-Matic with some prototype biological categories, you can combine together, like an on-line quiz. (See our post: Neurological Correlates Rewrites the DSM: Introducing the DSM-A-Matic.)
Again, apologies, we never did fix the code. Nothing happens when you press “submit,” but you all get the drift: