The MTHFR C677T polymorphism and postpartum mental illness in at-risk women

Psychotic disorders (which include schizophrenia, schizoaffective and bipolar disorders) are common mental illnesses, affecting about 3 per cent of the population. Women face a number of challenges when dealing with these disorders, especially when it comes to pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Women with a history of a psychotic disorder have substantial risks for a postpartum episode of mental illness like depression or psychosis. Postpartum mental illness carries risks for suicide and infanticide, as well as other less dramatic but still significant problems like difficulties with parenting skills and problems with mother-child bonding and attachment. Research has shown that, in general, psychotic disorders stem from interactions between genetic and environmental influences. The specific genetic variations that increase risk for postpartum episodes of mental illness are largely unknown. Dr. Jehannine Austin will use a new approach to investigate whether a variation to one particular gene contributes to risk for postpartum episodes of mental illness in women with a history of mental illness. This gene is known to encode a protein whose function is dependant on the B vitamin, folate. Dr. Austin will not only look at genetic variations, but will also measure folate levels in pregnant women at high risk of postpartum mental illness. If her work shows that the genetic variation plays a role in risk for postpartum mental illness, it may be possible to decrease risk for postpartum episodes of mental illness by providing folate supplements for these women.