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Leadership Roles Linked to Increased Bipolar Disorder Risk in New GWAS

NEW YORK — Holding a leadership position correlates with nine genetic loci, including ones previously linked to intelligence and bipolar disorder risk, a new genome-wide association study has found.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore conducted a genome-wide association study of leadership using UK Biobank data and related supervisory or managerial job data. Twin studies have hinted that holding a leadership role could be partially heritable, and other studies have both suggested that there are both health benefits as well as health costs associated with holding leadership roles.

As they reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, the researchers identified a handful of genetic loci associated with having a leadership role or managerial position, including ones that are also linked to bipolar disorder, intelligence, and schizophrenia. The researchers additionally noted genetic correlations between leadership roles and positive indicators of well-being, but also negative indicators like bipolar disorder and alcohol consumption, as well as shortened longevity, cardiovascular disease, and body-mass index.

"Our findings offer insights into the biological underpinnings of leadership, revealing top loci overlapping with those for mental health traits and the pervasive polygenity of work-related variables," senior author Qiao Fan from Duke-NUS Medical School and her colleagues wrote in their paper

Using job code data included in the UK Biobank dataset, the researchers classified participants as leaders or non-leaders based on whether their jobs entailed supervising others and managing people, resources, or tasks. Within their dataset, they identified 42,998 leaders and 205,642 non-leaders, as well as estimated for a subset of their cohort the level of management demands they shouldered. In general, individuals holding leadership positions were more educated and had a higher household income than non-leaders.

Through their genome-wide association study, the researchers uncovered nine signals associated with leadership or management demands, which they replicated in three independent datasets. The most significant loci — across all cohorts — fell in an intergenic region on chromosome 6 between miR2113 and POU3F2. This loci, the researchers noted, had previously been linked to educational attainment and intelligence, but also to bipolar disorder. Another top loci, rs4977839-A, was particularly linked to management demands and also was linked to bipolar disorder risk.

Other loci in KLF5 and near ZSWIM6 were also associated with leadership, both of which have previously been implicated in schizophrenia.

Meanwhile, Fan and her colleagues examined genetic correlations between leadership and 10 traits thought to correlate with it, such as risk tolerance, educational attainment, and height. Leadership, they found, has significant genetic correlations with risk tolerance, neuroticism, intelligence, and height, as well as with extraversion.

They likewise examined genetic correlation between leadership and measures of wellbeing to find positive genetic correlations between leadership and subjective well-being, overall health rating, exercise, and negative correlations with symptoms of depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, triglycerides.

But they also found positive genetic correlations between leadership and bipolar disorder and alcohol intake frequency, both indicators of low wellbeing.

Accounting for socioeconomic factors weakened many of the genetic correlations between leadership and measures of well-being, but the correlations between leadership and bipolar disorder risk and alcohol intake frequency held. By further investigating these ties, the researchers found that bipolar disorder could have similar underlying biological mechanisms as educational attainment and leadership but not income.