We have identified genetic risk variants for major psychiatric diseases incl. schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in the Finnish population and as part of large international collaborative networks. This work has revealed how both common & low-risk, and rare & high variations contribute to the disease risk. The role of the rare & high-risk variations, such as those at RBM12, KCNB1, DISC1, or TOP3B, is particularly intruiging and prominent in the specific sub-isolate populations in Finland.
During the past 10 years, our main research focus has been on understanding indivdiual characteristics in regulation of sleep and emotions, and in tolerance to disrupted sleep and environmental stress. We identified genetic risk factors for emotional burnout in occupational cohorts in the UST and, under circadian stress (shift work), in melatonin receptor 1A genes by genome-wide association. The latter finding evidenced for the importance of intrinsic melatonin signaling in modulation of the capability to tolerate circadian stress. - In a national and international collaboration, we detected genetic risk variations for extreme impulsivity and violent behavior and antisocial personality. The risk factors identified in the samples enriched for extreme phenotypes played also role in mediating susceptibility to substance use disorder or features of antisocial personality in general population, when there were environmental risk factors during the early development.
One major line of our research has been to discover the relation of sleep and environmental stress for health, and to develop research-based, targetted tools to ameliorate sleep- and stress-related disturbances. The interest on searching for connections between stress, disturbed sleep and depression origins from our milestone publication in 2009, where we showed the temporally unidirectional relationship of poor sleep quality, depressed mood and, eventually, work disability due to depressive disorder in a comprehensive sample of twins. In another large epidemiological study, we were able to link the core feature of depression, negative attitude towards self, to frequent nightmares, suggesting for their intimate connection via disturbed REM sleep processes.
The ultimate goal of our research is to find tools to improve methods for prevention and individual care. Meanwhile we are looking for specific biomarkers for risk detection, there has been important work which has taken advantage of the research on sleep medicine and resulted in recommendations for health practices in the common population as well as for patients with insomnia.