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Genetic Architecture of Mental Disorders in Ancestrally Diverse Populations II


Miri Gitik, Ph.D.
Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science


The goal of this concept is to continue NIMH efforts in supporting the collection and genomic characterization of cohorts with mental illness from diverse ancestral backgrounds. The focus of this concept will be the collection of large cohorts of non-European or admixed ancestries in the United States and around the globe.


Epidemiologic studies have shown that mental illnesses are found in every country and culture in the world. About one in eight people in the world live with a mental disorder, making them the leading cause of years lived with disability (YLDs), accounting for one in every six YLDs globally (WHO World Mental Health Report ). The global public health impact of mental illness cannot be overstated.

To fully understand the biological mechanisms underlying disease and develop effective treatments for individuals of diverse ancestral background, genetic variation across the globe must be captured in research via expanding upon the data sets that inform genomic medicine and translating these findings into clinical care for all people equally.

To date, most genome wide genetic studies have focused on cohorts of European ancestry for reasons such as population homogeneity and ease of ascertainment. While this has led to many successful genetic associations, the translation of these findings to other ancestries for risk prediction, (e.g., using polygenic risk scores), remains problematic, and inadvertently creating even greater health disparities. Therefore, studies of genetic variation in diverse populations are necessary to advance the important goal of global mental health discovery and equity.

To address this historical gap, in 2019, the NIMH established the Ancestral Populations Network (APN) through two funding announcements, PAR-20-026 and PAR-20-027. The APN emphasizes the importance of building equitable partnerships and collaborations that leverage the expertise of researchers from around the globe.

This concept aims to build upon the successes of APN and expand these efforts by targeting currently unexplored gap areas, (i) diversifying the geographic, clinical, and genomic representation of NIMH-supported studies (ii) enhancing phenotypic and genomic characterization of mental illnesses in diverse ancestry populations by expanding prior non-European cohort collections. Further, increasing our understanding of the genetic architecture of mental illnesses and enhancing the value and utility of the scientific resources to be generated for the field.