Fifty years ago, we knew the "double helix" was a pivotal discovery, despite the studied understatement with which we concluded our paper in Nature. But even we did not anticipate the richness and diversity of the discoveries that would occur over the ensuing years. We certainly did not expect that 50 years later our work and its biomedical implications would be the focus of a special commemorative issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry !
I am deeply gratified, however, that this progression has occurred, and that in 2003 we actually know enough about the relationship between genes and the illnesses that affect the mind and brain to have this topic featured in the world’s most widely read psychiatric journal. I am gratified as well that the ramifications are so many and varied. In the 21st century, psychiatrists are being invited to think about animal models of the illnesses they observe daily in human beings and to recognize that these models will aid in the development of new medications to treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists are being challenged to learn about the new technologies and terminologies—microarrays, haplotype maps, and promotor regions—that have arisen as a consequence of the enormous progress that has occurred in molecular biology. Most important, as this issue of the Journal demonstrates, the tools of molecular biology are now being applied to improve understanding of both normal behavioral variations (e.g., shyness) and also the mechanisms of a wide variety of complex disorders such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, and substance abuse.
I am confident that during the upcoming years the heritage of the double helix will help psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and behavioral scientists unlock many secrets of the mind and brain. Although challenging because of their genetic complexity, mental illnesses are among the most important diseases to be studied with the tools of molecular biology. Their effects are devastating to both patients and their families. Therefore, I proudly look forward to continuing to both foster and follow the discoveries about their mechanisms and treatment that are certain to occur as a consequence of our modest achievement 50 years ago.