Researchers are now a step closer to potentially identifying a link between molecular mechanisms and neuropsychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

In a study performed by the scientific collaboration, The PsychENCODE project, researchers assessed DNA, RNA and protein data to obtain more information about the brain’s architecture.

The study, which kicked off in 2015 and comprises more than 2,000 participants living with and without psychiatric disorders has gleaned some significant insights into brain development.

“We’re not claiming in the remotest way to have figured out the underlying mechanism of these diseases, or how you would go about designing drugs, but we are highlighting genes, pathways and also cell types that are associated with these diseases,” Mark Gerstein, molecular biophysicist, Yale University, USA, tells the scientific journal, Nature.

Although scientists have identified several genetic variants associated with neuropsychiatric disorders over the past decade, they are yet to determine how, if at all, sequence changes alter gene function.

“Typically, when we do a genetic study, we might find 50 associated genetic variants all clustered in the same region of the genome, and maybe only one of them is directly influencing the risk of disease,” Dr Michael O’Donovan, psychiatric geneticist, Cardiff University, UK, says.

Although much work has been done to investigate the development of psychiatric disorders, Dr Kevin Mitchell, neurogeneticist, Trinity College, Dublin, who is not involved in the project, has voiced his scepticism about its value.

“I’m not fully convinced that we know more today than we did yesterday. It’s a huge amount of work, very well intended and very well done . . . but there are some limits to what you can do with genomics,” he tells Science magazine.

Despite collaborative world-wide efforts to crack the underlying genetic predisposition to varied mental health disease states, including anorexia nervosa, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia and autism, it’s clear we still have a long way to go in our understanding and acceptance.