From degeneration to genetic susceptibility, from eugenics to genethics, from Bezugsziffer to LOD score: The history of psychiatric genetics

Thomas G. Schulze, Heiner Fangerau, Peter Propping

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Reviewing the history of psychiatric genetics is a difficult task, since-in contrast to genetic research into most other disorders-it cannot simply be done by chronologically listing methodological achievements and major findings. Instead, it necessitates a comprehensive assessment of how the aetiological concept of mental disorders has developed since as early as the world of ancient Greece. Furthermore, it has to touch upon the sensitive issue of the eugenic movement that was closely linked to the study of heredity in mental disorders in the first half of the 20th century and, in Nazi Germany, led to the systematic mass murder of psychiatric patients. Finally, reviewing the scientific dimensions, history of psychiatric genetics is at the same time a walk through the history of complex genetics in general. In our review, we try to pay tribute to this complexity. We argue that psychiatric genetics has not only propelled our understanding of mental disorders but has significantly benefited genetic research into other complex disorders through the development of methodologically robust approaches (e.g., systematic phenotype characterisation, methods to control for ascertainment biases, age-correction). Given the recent reasons for new optimism, i. e., the identification of susceptibility genes for psychiatric phenotypes, a continued methodologically sound approach is needed more than ever to guarantee robust results. Finally, psychiatric genetic research should never again be performed in an environment void of ethical standards.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)246-259
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Review of Psychiatry
Volume16
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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