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Genetic Epidemiology in Psychiatry


Scientific Director

Prof. Dr. Marcella Rietschel

Phone: +49 621 1703-6051

Fax: +49 621 1703-6055


Assistant: Viola Lahr
Phone: +49 (0) 621 1703-6052, e-mail

Laboratory Building, 4th Floor, Room 406


The Department of Genetic Epidemiology in Psychiatry investigates the biological and environmental basis of psychiatric illness, as well as gene-environment interactions and the genetic basis of treatment response (pharmacogenetics). Since psychiatric-genetic research touches upon a range of ethically sensitive issues, the Department is also engaged in intensive scientific dissection of the inherent ethical dilemmas.

Phenotype characterization:
The Department has one of the largest psychiatric phenotype-databases. This comprises comprehensively characterized samples of patients with psychiatric illness, their relatives and controls, as well as individuals from the general population. These phenotypes are investigated among others in large population-based cohorts. In addition, intermediate psychiatric phenotypes and ---endophenotypes, and the genetic basis thereof, are investigated in a number of collaborations with partners from the CIMH, and other national and international research teams.

A prerequisite for psychiatric genetic research is the availability of a comprehensive collection of biomaterials. These biomaterials serve as a basis for research into biomarker panels that are capable of modeling complex biochemical networks, and which are therefore of potentially greater benefit in terms of diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy.  The biobank preserves samples such as blood, saliva, DNA, mRNA, plasma, serum, hair, and urine.  These samples are collected from all patients, relatives, and controls recruited by the Department and its collaborating partners, as well as from individuals from the general population. The Department is also the contact for partners concerning all issues relating to sample-handling, data protection, and ethical and legal standards (biobank link).

Genetic analyses:
Robust correlations between genetic risk factors for psychiatric illness and clinical symptoms and disease course are sought. Here, both candidate gene- and genome-wide approaches are applied. A novel research focus is the investigation of epigenetic factors. Analyses of SNPs, VTNRs, CNVs, and methylation are performed in the molecular genetic laboratory (laboratory link). Genome wide investigations are conducted in collaboration with Bonn and Munich.

Biostatistical analyses:
A broad spectrum of state-of-the-art statistical and bioinformatical methods are applied to the analysis of genetic-, epigenetic-, and phenotypic data. These include single- and multi-marker analyses, which integrate information concerning multiple (epi-) genetic markers and thus improve the prediction of a given outcome measure. Approaches have also been established to create a genome-wide profile, e.g., the so-called polygenic risk score, and thus exploit the information contained in the complete human genome.
The calculations involved in state-of-the-art biostatistical analyses are extremely time-consuming and laborious, and expertise in many areas is indispensable to their performance. Their complexity is such that they cannot be performed by any single research team in isolation. The Department is therefore closely involved in international collaborations. Scientists involved in these analyses include members of the Statistics Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC). The Department is also engaged in regular exchanges with other experienced analysts worldwide, as well as in the continuous development of approaches and practices.

ELSI: ethical-, legal-, and social aspects of human genome research:
Since this research has many ethical-, legal-, and social implications, the Department also works to address these issues. Besides theoretical considerations, the Department seeks to formulate practical solutions to such questions within the research context, e.g., data protection and the optimal provision of information to patients. Here, a key focus is on the examination and harmonization of the procedures of national and international cooperation partners, keyword: “Global Science-Global Ethics”.

The Department collaborates with representatives from diverse disciplines, e.g., with lawyers, ethicists, philosophers, and patient representatives. In addition, Marcella Rietschel and her team are active members of the Task Force on Genetic Testing of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics, and provides advice on ethical issues to both national- (e:Med Systems Medicine: Datenschutz und Ethik, TMF e.V.:Biomaterialbanken) and EU-funded- (Imagemend, PRISM, MiND) projects.

Prof. Dr. Ole A. Andreassen, Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway

Dr. Markus Baumgartner, Institute of Forensic Medicine, Universit of  Zurich, Switzerland

Prof. Dr. Dr. Konrad Beyreuther, Network Aging Research (NAR), University of Heidelberg

Dr. Dr. Elisabeth Binder, Max-Planck-Society, München

Prof. Dr. Sven Cichon, University Basel, Switzerland

Prof. Dr. David Collier, William Harvey Research Institute, Barts and The London, UK

Prov.-Doz. Dr. med. Joachim Cordes, LVR-Clinic Düsseldorf

Prof. Dr. Dr. Udo Dannlowski, Department of Psychiatry, University Münster

Prof. Dr. Maria Grigoroiu-Serbanescu, Medical University Bucharest, Romania

Lejla Hasandedić, Akdeniz University, Ankara, Turkey

Dr. Patrick Jern, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Abo Akademi University, Turku, Finland

Prof. Dr. Rudolf Kaaks and Prof. Dr. Hermann Brenner, German Cancer Research Center,  (DKFZ) Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Tilo Kircher, University Clinic of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Marburg

PD Dr. Dirk Lanzerath, German Reference Centre for Ethics in the Life Sciences (DRZE) Bonn

Prof. Dr. Nick Martin, QIMR Brisbane, New Zealand

Prof. Dr. Fermin Mayoral Cleries, Institute of Biomedical Research, Malaga, Spain

Prof. Dr. Peter McGuffin, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, UK

Professor Ole Mors, Prof. Dr. Preben B. Mortensen und Dr. Christiane Gasse, Abteilung für Psychiatrie, Aarhus Universität, Dänemark

Prof. Dr. Hossein Najmabadi, Universität für Soziale Wohlfahrt und Rehabilitationswissenschaften (USWR), Teheran, Iran

Prof. Dr. Markus Nöthen, Institute of Human Genetics, University Clinic, Bonn

Prof. Dr. Stephan Ortner und Prof. P.P. Pramstaller, Europäische Akademie Bozen, Italien

Dr. Lilijana Oruc, Universität Sarajevo, Bosnien und Herzegowina

Prof. Dr. Dan Rujescu, Universitätsklinikum Halle

Dr. Christoph Schickhardt und Dr. Romy Kirsten, NCT, Universität Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. med. Peter Schirmacher, Pathologisches Institut, Universität Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Thomas Schulze und Prof. Dr. Peter Falkai, LMU München

Prof. Dr. Ze’ev Seltzer und Prof. Dr. James L. Kennedy, Universität von Toronto, Kanada

Prof. Dr. Birgit Spinath, Institute of Psychology, Universität Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. Kári. Stefánsson, Decode Genetics, Island

Dr. med. Patrick Sullivan, Abteilung für Genetik, Universität von North Carolina, USA

Prof. Dr. Moshe Szyf, Abteilung für Pharmakologie und Therapie, McGill Universität, Kanada

Prof. Dr. theol. Klaus Tanner, Wissenschaftlich-Theologisches Seminar, Universität Heidelberg

Dr. Alexander Varzari, Institute für Phthisiopneumologie, Kishinev, Moldawien

Prof. Dr. Dr. Henrik Walter, Dr. Dr. Stephan Ripke und Prof. Dr. Dr. Andreas Heinz, Charité Berlin

Dr. James Walters, Institut für psychologische Medizin und klinische Neurowissenschaften, Cardiff Universität, UK

Prof. Dr. Dr. Erich Wichmann, Helmholtz-Zentrum, München

Prof. Dr. Georg Winterer, Medizinische Fakultät, Universität Düsseldorf

Topics of the department

Topics of the departmentclick to enlarge

4 pillars of the department

4 pillars of the departmentclick to enlarge

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