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Record-breaking study links over 950 genes to insomnia

05 February 2018

By Shaoni Bhattacharya

Appeared in BioNews 936

A large study of the genomes of over 1.3 million people has found 956 genes implicated in insomnia.

The genome-wide association study (GWAS) examined the genomes of people from the UK's Biobank, and those from the personal genomics company 23andMe Inc, based in Mountain View, California. With 1,331,010 participants, the study authors believe this is the largest GWAS to date.

Despite being a common complaint (one-third of the general population report insomnia) only a handful of genes had previously been associated with the disorder (see BioNews 905).

An international team of scientists, lead by researchers at the VU University in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, surveyed participants on their self-reported insomnia symptoms while conducting various genome analyses.

Their findings – yet to be peer-reviewed – were published on the bioRxiv pre-print server.

'Our findings reveal key brain areas and cells implicated in the neurobiology of insomnia and its related disorders, and provide novel targets for treatment,' write the authors.

In particular, many of the genes that were associated with insomnia were expressed in a type of brain cell known as a medium spiny neuron; these form 95 percent of the brain's striatum. This area is involved in voluntary movement.

The researchers also found some genetic overlap between insomnia and certain neuropsychiatric traits like anxiety and depression.

Dr Stuart Ritchie, a psychologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, tweeted that the study was 'amazingly massive'.

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