Barcelona snapshots

Prof. Elisabeth Binder

Elisabeth Binder psychiatrist Controversies Psiquiatry Barcelona
Max Planck Institut fur Psychiatrie, Germany
Talk What genetic and epigenetic factors reveal: Focus on stress-related disorders
Date Friday, April 21st, 2023
Time 9:15 - 10:00
Round Table 2 Precision diagnosis in psychiatry: are we going to succeed in changing the model?


Elisabeth Binder has studied Medicine at the University of Vienna, Austria and Neuroscience at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, USA. Following a postdoctoral training at the Max-Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, she returned to Emory University as an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Human Genetics. In 2007, she was appointed as research group leader at the Max-Planck Institute of Psychiatry within the Minerva Program of the Max-Planck Society.

Since August 2013, Elisabeth Binder is the director of the Department of Translational Research in Psychiatry at the Max-Planck Institute of Psychiatry. She also holds an appointment as Adjunct Professor in the Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine. Her main research interests are the identification of molecular moderators of the response to environmental factors, with a focus on early trauma and gene x environment interactions. She studies how such factors influence trajectories to psychiatric disease or well-being to ultimately use this information for novel prevention and treatment strategies.


This presentation will discuss whether and how genetic and epigenetic factors can contribute to precision diagnosis in psychiatry. Recent advances in genetics have unveiled the genetic architecture of psychiatric disorders as well as a large number of genetic risk variants, both rare as well as common. However, translation of this knowledge into clinical application is lagging behind. This is related to the low amount of variance explained by some polygenic predictors but also the fact that psychiatric diseases show high degree of genetic coheritability, so that genetic predictors are not very specific to a certain disorder. Using the example of genetic factors associated with stress-related disorders, including major depression, this presentation will highlight some of the approaches that are taken by the field to improve the clinical value of genetic predictors. This includes the functional annotation of disease-associated genetic variants that may allow stratification by causal mechanisms. Here a focus will be on genetic variants that moderate the response to stress and maybe related to risk or resilience trajectories following exposure to adverse events. It will also discuss the need for transdiagnostic approaches and the use of multi-level deep phenotyping for a better gene to function to risk mapping. A second focus will lie on another level of gene regulation, epigenetics. Environmental factors may be embedded by inducing lasting alterations in the epigenetic landscape and by this influence gene transcription and cell function. A number of studies have sought to find epigenetic signatures of exposures to adversities, and this presentation will discuss both failures and successes and the need for complex analyses that integrate genetic information as well as cell-type distribution to optimally use these tools. Epigenetic information from peripheral tissues allows to generate interesting biological information. This includes biological age – which is accelerated in psychiatric disorders and may serve to identify patients at highest risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disease. From epigenetic profiles one can also identify signature of past exposures, especially prenatal ones, that may have lasting effects and can serve as predictors of future disease risk.


[Full paper] Suarez A, ..., Binder EB, Räikkönen K. (2020). A polyepigenetic glucocorticoid exposure score at birth and childhood mental and behavioral disorders. Neurobiol Stress. 2020 Nov 21;13:100275. doi: 10.1016/j.ynstr.2020.100275. PMID: 33344728; PMCID: PMC7739178.

[Full paper] Czamara D, ... Binder EB. (2019).
Integrated analysis of environmental and genetic influences on cord blood DNA methylation in new-borns. Nat Commun. 2019 Jun 11;10(1):2548. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-10461-0. PMID: 31186427; PMCID: PMC6559955.

[Full paper] Provençal N, ... Binder EB. (2019). Glucocorticoid exposure during hippocampal neurogenesis primes future stress response by inducing changes in DNA methylation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Sep 22;117(38):23280-23285. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1820842116. Epub 2019 Aug 9. PMID: 31399550; PMCID: PMC7519233.

[Full paper] Arloth J, ... Binder EB. (2015). Major Depressive Disorder Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium PGC. Genetic Differences in the Immediate Transcriptome Response to Stress Predict Risk-Related Brain Function and Psychiatric Disorders. Neuron. 2015 Jun 3;86(5):1189-202. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.05.034. PMID: 26050039; PMCID: PMC4490780.