News, literature, and events in the ethical, social, and legal implications of psychiatric, neurologic, and behavioral genetics. 
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   Vol. 2, No. 5         June 2015


In the Literature

“Bad Genes” & Criminal Responsibility 
By María Isabel González-Tapiaa and Ingrid Obsuthb

To date several candidate genes have been put forward and their links to antisocial behavior have been examined and documented with some consistency. In this paper, the authors focus on the so called “warrior gene,” or the low-activity allele of the MAOA gene, which has been most consistently related to human behavior and specifically to violence and antisocial behavior. They aim to put forward recommendations related to the use of genetic information, specifically the presence of the low-activity genotype of the MAOA gene, in modulation of criminal responsibility in European and U.S. courts.

23andMe: The Ethics of Genetic Testing for Neurodegenerative Diseases 
By Liana Meffert 

The impact of direct-to-consumer genetic testing on consumers outside of genetic counseling environments is unknown. For that reason, Meffert argues that an intermediary should review, screen, and share pertinent genetic results with consumers, especially when considering results related to risk for neurodegenerative diseases, which arguably present special ethical concerns. 

Mother’s Guilt Responses to Children’s Obesity Risk Feedback 
By Susan Persky et al. 

This study explored the influence of family health history-based obesity risk feedback for their child on 147 overweight mothers’ guilt related to children’s lifestyle behaviors and passing down a genetic propensity for overweight. Mothers were randomized to receive, or not, obesity risk feedback for their 4- to 5-year-old child and then made food choices for them using a virtual reality–based buffet. Receipt of risk information increased lifestyle- and genetics-related guilt. Choosing fewer unhealthful foods for the child attenuated both types of guilt. Work in this area may aid in development of obesity risk feedback strategies that enhance child feeding.

State-Offered Ethnically Targeted Reproductive Genetic Testing 
By Ellen Wright Clayton and Kyle B. Brothers 

Commenting on a recent study by Zlotogora et al, Clayton and Brothers highlight some of the ethical issues raised by state-offered, ethnically targeted reproductive genetic testing and consider some of the lessons that can be learned from past experience. 

Parents’ Experiences 12 Years after Newborn Screening for Genetic Susceptibility to Type 1 Diabetes and Their Attitudes to Whole-Genome Sequencing in Newborns
By Nicola Kerruish

Based on 15 semi-structured interviews with parents of children who had been tested for genetic susceptibility to type 1 diabetes, this article begins to address the gap in the literature concerning psychosocial effects of “genomic NBS.” It also examines parental attitudes toward potential future expansions of NBS. Absence of adverse psychosocial effects and ease of disclosure to the child represent initial positive findings, but they require replication and further evaluation in relation to use of prevention. Parents' attitudes to “genomic NBS” are variable, suggesting that parental choice will be an important component of future screening programs.

Parents Are Interested in Newborn Genomic Testing During the Early Postpartum Period

By Susan Waisbren et al. 

The authors of this study examined parental interest in newborn genomic testing by first providing study participants with a brief genetics orientation and then asking participants to rate their interest in testing on a five-point Likert scale. Interest in newborn genomic testing was high among parents of healthy newborns, and the majority of couples had similar levels of interest. Surveying parents about genomic sequencing did not prompt rejection of newborn screening. 

Development of a Tiered and Binned Genetic Counseling Model for Informed Consent in the Era of Multiplex Testing for Cancer Susceptibility
By Angela R. Bradbury et al. 

Multiplex genetic testing, including both moderate- and high-penetrance genes for cancer susceptibility, is associated with greater uncertainty than traditional testing, presenting challenges to informed consent and genetic counseling. The authors sought to develop a new model for informed consent and genetic counseling for four ongoing studies. They argue that a tiered-binned model for informed consent and genetic counseling has the potential to address the challenges of multiplex testing for cancer susceptibility and to support informed decision making and adaptive responses to testing.
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In the News

Do Creativity and Schizophrenia Share A Small Genetic Link? Maybe 
By Angus Chen 

There are hundreds of common genetic mutations scattered throughout the human genome that each bump up by just a tiny bit the risk of developing a mental illness like schizophrenia. Many people carry some set of those genes, but most don't end up with a psychotic disorder. Instead, a study suggests, they might be getting a small creative boost.

New Biomarker Identified in Women with Mental Illness 
By University of California, San Diego 

Psychiatric disorders can be difficult to diagnose because clinicians must rely upon interpreted clues, such as a patient's behaviors and feelings. For the first time, researchers report identifying a biological marker: the over-production of specific genes that could be a diagnostic indicator of mental illness in female psychiatric patients.

Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood? 
By Peter Andrey Smith 

Biologists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on microbial activity. The two million unique bacterial genes found in each human microbiome can make the 23,000 genes in our cells seem paltry, almost negligible, by comparison. Given the extent to which bacteria are now understood to influence human physiology, it is hardly surprising that scientists have turned their attention to how bacteria might affect the brain. Micro-organisms in our gut secrete a profound number of chemicals, and researchers have found that among those chemicals are the same substances used by our neurons to communicate and regulate mood, like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These appear to play a function in intestinal disorders, which coincide with high levels of major depression and anxiety.


Evaluating Historical Candidate Genes for Schizophrenia
By Martilias S. Farrell et al. 

Prior to the genome-wide association era, candidate gene studies were a major approach in schizophrenia genetics. The authors consider the current status of 25 historical candidate genes for schizophrenia (for example, COMT, DISC1, DTNBP1 and NRG1). On the basis of current empirical evidence and mostly consensual assessments of informed opinion, it appears that the historical candidate gene literature did not yield clear insights into the genetic basis of schizophrenia. A likely reason is inadequate statistical power. However, the considerable efforts embodied in these early studies unquestionably set the stage for current successes in genomic approaches to schizophrenia.

Polygenic Risk Score for Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Predict Creativity
By Robert A. Power et al.

The authors tested whether polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder would predict creativity. Higher scores were associated with artistic society membership or creative profession in both Icelandic (P = 5.2 × 10−6 and 3.8 × 10−6 for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder scores, respectively) and replication cohorts (P = 0.0021 and 0.00086). This could not be accounted for by increased relatedness between creative individuals and those with psychoses, indicating that creativity and psychosis share genetic roots.

Over-expression of XIST, the Master Gene for X Chromosome Inactivation, in Females With Major Affective Disorders
By Baohu Ji et al. 

The authors found that XIST and KDM5C gene expression may be used as a biological marker for diagnosis of major affective disorders in a significantly large subset of female patients from the general population. Their studies show that over-expression of XIST and some X-linked escapee genes may be a common mechanism for development of psychiatric disorders between the patients with rare genetic diseases (XXY or XXX) and the general population of female psychiatric patients.

Frequency of Alcohol Consumption in Humans: The Role of Metabotropic Glutamate Receptors and Downstream Signaling Pathways
By Julie L. Meyers et al. 

Rodent models implicate metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) and downstream signaling pathways in addictive behaviors through metaplasticity. One way mGluRs can influence synaptic plasticity is by regulating the local translation of AMPA receptor trafficking proteins via eukaryotic elongation factor 2 (eEF2). However, genetic variation in this pathway has not been examined in humans. Among a sample of 788 adults living in Detroit, Michigan, 206 genetic variants across the mGluR–eEF2–AMPAR pathway (including GRM1, GRM5, HOMER1, HOMER2, EEF2K, MTOR, EIF4E, EEF2, CAMK2A, ARC, GRIA1 and GRIA4) were found to predict number of drinking days per month (corrected P-value <0.01) when considered as a set (set-based linear regression conducted in PLINK). The authors concluded that insights from rodent studies enabled the identification of novel human alcohol candidate genes within the mGluR–eEF2–AMPAR pathway.
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