About Our Lab

Our lab is largely computational, examining genetic and health record data from clinical populations, suicide deaths, and healthy emerging adults. We have built a pipeline for genetic analysis and prediction of multiple health outcomes (the “phenome”) in emerging adulthood and beyond, and we investigate the genetic and epigenetic inter-relationships of psychiatric and medical conditions to understand risks.

We lead efforts in the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium to examine the genetics of mental health concerns including alcohol use disorders, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, depression, ECT response, PTSD, psychosis, substance use disorders, and suicide. We contribute to the GTEx Consortium, SFARI, the International Suicide Genetics Consortium, and to clinical nosology efforts.

Whilst collaborating with international consortia, we are also working on population-based studies unique to Utah. We examine genetic and health record data in healthy emerging adults, patients with severe psychiatric conditions, and individuals who have died by suicide. With unique pedigree and medical record data available in Utah, we are able to model both molecular genetic and environmental mediators of risk to identify and validate optimal intervention targets.

Genome-Wide Association and Whole Genome Sequencing Efforts to Study Suicide Death

The lab works closely with the centralized Office of the Medical Examiner to analyze genetic samples of individuals who have died by suicide. These studies have recently expanded to cross-ancestry GWAS efforts and whole genome sequencing of enriched extended pedigrees. All data are population-based and evidence ancestry admixture, enhancing sensitivity for discovery and increasing the generalizability of results.

Understanding the Genetics of Suicide Death in India

India has the highest prevalence of suicide death of any country in the world, and Delhi has the highest suicide rate of any city in India. We are excited to partner with Dr. Chittaranjan Behera to collect thousands of samples of blood and brain tissue from population-based postmortem suicide deaths and postmortem control deaths in Delhi, to better understand the genetic and environmental risk factors in this population. Our goal is to build resources and infrastructure in India to study suicide risks and significantly reduce the occurence of suicide.

Understanding the Genetics of Mental Health in Latin American Ancestries

Genetic risk factors for suicide, depressive disorders, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder are becoming well-characterized in European ancestries, but remain understudied in individuals of Latin American ancestry admixtures. In Utah, population-based genetic research observes unique and heterogeneous admixtures of Latin and Native American ancestries, which we can study in collaboration with Latin American research collaborators to understand genetic risks and to help reduce health disparities. To this end, we have streamlined computational tools to perform fast, admixture-aware genome-wide association studies of risk by ancestry.

Psychiatric Genomics Consortium

With collaborators Niamh Mullins (Mount Sinai), Douglas Ruderfer (Vanderbilt), and the Million Veteran Program, we lead several projects investigating the common and rare variant genetic architecture of suicide risk. These projects have included the first multi-ancestry genome-wide association analysis of suicide attempt in over 40,000 cases, and the first large-scale genome-wide assocation analyses of population-based suicide death. These have provided opportunities to characterize risks across four ancestry super-populations. In addition, these analyses allow us to perform causal polygenic risk analyses of suicide, implicating smoking, impulsivity, and ADHD, above and beyond known risks relating to depressive symptoms or trauma.

Ethics in Genetic Testing

We also study the ethical implications of genetic testing in psychiatry. We help lead  the International Society for Psychiatric Genetics Ethics Advisory Board to improve policy, preparedness, and education of clinicians and the public. We also advocate for better representation of ancestries in pharmacogenomics research.

Some Ongoing Funded Projects (2021):

  • NIMH R01: Genome-Wide Association Analysis of Suicide Death (Docherty, Shabalin, Coon)
  • NIEHS R01: The Influence of Multiple Environmental Exposures on Suicide Risk (Bakian, Coon, Docherty)
  • NIMH R01: Analysis of Electronic Health Records to Predict Suicide Risk (Coon, Docherty, Bakian, Mullins)
  • NIMH R01: Whole-Genome Sequencing of Suicide Death (Coon)
  • The Simons Foundation: Modeling the Genetics of Autism (Docherty, Coon, Quinlan, Marth)
  • The Utah Genome Project: Deconvolution of Polygenic Risk Scores Toward Molecular Consequences (Camp, Docherty)
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Proximal Environmental Exposures for the Chronic Inflammation Suicide Subtype (Bakian, Docherty)
  • NINDS R25: Training in Advanced Statistical Methods for Neuroimaging and Genetics (Welsh, Docherty, Shabalin, Koppelmans)