For the approximately 5.7 million Americans already diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the recent unearthing of the genetic origins of this illness is good news.

It appears, according to the National Institutes of Health that the development of bipolar disorder does not hinge solely on one gene or even a specific combination of genes. Rather, bipolar disorder depends on the small effects of variations in many different genes in the brain.

None of these effects alone is large enough to trigger the development of the illness, characterized by sudden mood swings, but when combined does indeed have the potential to cause the disease.

At least this is the conclusion of a new study, conducted of the National Institute of Mental Health in conjunction with the Universities of Heidelberg and Bonn, as well as several other American organizations. The project, the first of its kind to scan nearly all variations in human genes to discover the ones associated with bipolar disorder, is called the NIMH Genetics Initiative. Results of this study have been published on the internet in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

This study is significant because many individuals affected with bipolar disorder do not respond to the current medication options. This discovery may help health care providers tailor treatments to an individual's circumstances. Individuals inherit different variations in genes - that's what makes us each an unique person. But that is also what makes one person with bipolar disorder respond favorably to a medication where another may not.

Recent advances in genetic technology enabled the researchers to scan literally thousands of genes in a single experiment. Those involved with this project compared the gene variations of 413 adults suffering with bipolar disorder with the variations of 563 adults who did not have the illness. Researchers then examined those variations that occurred more frequently in those with bipolar disorder.

Currently, lithium, as well as other mood-stabilizing medications are the primary drug tools used to treat bipolar disorder. While these certainly help many patients, Dr.Francis J. McMahon, MD, one of the lead researchers, explained that this project 'is a promising target for new treatments that might be more effective and better tolerated.'

Bipolar disorder is characterized by dramatic mood swings that are at times disabling. An individual with bipolar disorder can go from a severe state of depression to a manic episode, as the euphoric states are called, in as short a period as 24 hours. Bipolar disorder is usually diagnosed when a person is between the ages of 18 and 22, but evidence now shows that many individuals develop childhood-onset bipolarbipolar disorder as they get older. disorder. These persons do not get diagnosed nor treated promptly causing them more problems with