The etiologic pathways leading to neuropsychiatric diseases remain poorly defined. As genomic technologies have advanced over the past several decades, considerable progress has been made linking neuropsychiatric disorders to genetic underpinnings. Interest and consideration of nongenetic risk factors (e.g., lead exposure and schizophrenia) have, in contrast, lagged behind heritable frameworks of explanation. Thus, the association of neuropsychiatric illness to environmental chemical exposure, and their potential interactions with genetic susceptibility, are largely unexplored. In this review, we describe emerging approaches for considering the impact of chemical risk factors acting alone and in concert with genetic risk, and point to the potential role of epigenetics in mediating exposure effects on transcription of genes implicated in mental disorders. We highlight recent examples of research in nongenetic risk factors in psychiatric disorders that point to potential shared biological mechanisms—synaptic dysfunction, immune alterations, and gut–brain interactions. We outline new tools and resources that can be harnessed for the study of environmental factors in psychiatric disorders. These tools, combined with emerging experimental evidence, suggest that there is a need to broadly incorporate environmental exposures in psychiatric research, with the ultimate goal of identifying modifiable risk factors and informing new treatment strategies for neuropsychiatric disease.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health