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Missing a beat

assessment of circadian rhythm abnormalities in bipolar disorder in the genomic era

McCarthy, Michael J.

doi: 10.1097/YPG.0000000000000215

Circadian rhythm abnormalities have been recognized as a central feature of bipolar disorder (BD) but a coherent biological explanation for them remains lacking. Using genetic mutation of ‘clock genes’, robust animal models of mania and depression have been developed that elucidate key aspects of circadian rhythms and the circadian clock-mood connection. However, translation of this knowledge into humans remains incomplete. In recent years, very large genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have been conducted and the genetic underpinnings of BD are beginning to emerge. However, these genetic studies in BD do not match well with the evidence from animal studies that implicate the circadian clock in mood regulation. Even larger GWAS have been conducted for circadian phenotypes including chronotype, rhythm amplitude, sleep duration, and insomnia. These studies have identified a diverse set of associated genes, including a minority with previously well-characterized functions in the circadian clock. Taken together, the data from recent GWAS of BD and circadian phenotypes indicate that the genetic organization of the circadian clock, both in health and in BD is complex. The findings from GWAS elucidate potentially novel circadian mechanism that may be partly distinct from those identified in animal models. Pleiotropy, epistasis and nongenetic factors may play important roles in regulating circadian rhythms, some of which may underlie circadian rhythm disturbances in BD.

Department of Psychiatry, Center for Circadian Biology, VA San Diego Healthcare System, University of California San Diego, San Diego, California, USA

Correspondence to Michael J. McCarthy, MD, PhD, 3350 La Jolla Village Dr MC116A, San Diego, CA 92161, USA Tel: +1 858 642 1520; e-mail:

Received September 12, 2018

Accepted November 19, 2018

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