Francis McMahon, M.D.

Senior Investigator

Human Genetics Branch


John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center (Building 35), Room 1A-201
35 Convent Drive
Bethesda, MD 20814


Research Topics

Our mission is to identify the genes that contribute to the risk for mood and anxiety disorders so that better methods of diagnosis and treatment can be developed.
Mood and anxiety disorders reflect a complex genetic architecture ranging from common alleles conferring modest risk for what may prove to be a broad range of psychopathology, to alleles that help shape the clinical picture of disease and response to treatment. Rarer alleles may also exist that confer larger risk in a fraction of individuals and families. If even a few of these alleles can be firmly identified, new windows into the pathobiology of common psychiatric disorders may be opened, enabling the development of new methods of diagnosis and treatment.


Dr. McMahon received a BA in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982 and an MD from Johns Hopkins in 1987, where he also completed a medical internship, a residency in adult psychiatry, and a post-doctoral fellowship in genetics. In 1998, he moved to the University of Chicago, where he continued his research into the genetics of bipolar disorder while serving as Medical Director of the electroconvulsive therapy clinic. In 2002, he joined the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Intramural Research Program as Chief of its genetics unit. In 2010, he was promoted to Senior Investigator and Chief of the Human Genetics Branch. He is also a visiting Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. McMahon’s research is aimed at discovering and characterizing genes involved in mood and anxiety disorders so that better methods of diagnosis and treatment can be developed.

Dr. McMahon is past President of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics and a Fellow in the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. He serves on the editorial boards of Biological Psychiatry, International Review of Psychiatry, and Molecular Neuropsychiatry, and is a scientific advisor for the American Society for the Prevention of Suicide and the Rutgers University Cell & DNA Repository. He has received several awards for his work, including the 2016 Colvin Mood Disorders Prize from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. He has authored over 200 scientific reports and textbook chapters.

Selected Publications

  1. Baum AE, Akula N, Cabanero M, Cardona I, Corona W, Klemens B, Schulze TG, Cichon S, Rietschel M, Nöthen MM, Georgi A, Schumacher J, Schwarz M, Abou Jamra R, Höfels S, Propping P, Satagopan J, Detera-Wadleigh SD, Hardy J, McMahon FJ. A genome-wide association study implicates diacylglycerol kinase eta (DGKH) and several other genes in the etiology of bipolar disorder. Mol Psychiatry. 2008;13(2):197-207.
  2. Akula N, Barb J, Jiang X, Wendland JR, Choi KH, Sen SK, Hou L, Chen DT, Laje G, Johnson K, Lipska BK, Kleinman JE, Corrada-Bravo H, Detera-Wadleigh S, Munson PJ, McMahon FJ. RNA-sequencing of the brain transcriptome implicates dysregulation of neuroplasticity, circadian rhythms and GTPase binding in bipolar disorder. Mol Psychiatry. 2014;19(11):1179-85.
  3. Hou L, Heilbronner U, Degenhardt F, Adli M, Akiyama K, Akula N, Ardau R, Arias B, Backlund L, Banzato CEM, Benabarre A, Bengesser S, Bhattacharjee AK, Biernacka JM, Birner A, Brichant-Petitjean C, Bui ET, Cervantes P, Chen GB, Chen HC, Chillotti C, Cichon S, Clark SR, Colom F, Cousins DA, Cruceanu C, Czerski PM, Dantas CR, Dayer A, Étain B, Falkai P, Forstner AJ, Frisén L, Fullerton JM, Gard S, Garnham JS, Goes FS, Grof P, Gruber O, Hashimoto R, Hauser J, Herms S, Hoffmann P, Hofmann A, Jamain S, Jiménez E, Kahn JP, Kassem L, Kittel-Schneider S, Kliwicki S, König B, Kusumi I, Lackner N, Laje G, Landén M, Lavebratt C, Leboyer M, Leckband SG, Jaramillo CAL, MacQueen G, Manchia M, Martinsson L, Mattheisen M, McCarthy MJ, McElroy SL, Mitjans M, Mondimore FM, Monteleone P, Nievergelt CM, Nöthen MM, Ösby U, Ozaki N, Perlis RH, Pfennig A, Reich-Erkelenz D, Rouleau GA, Schofield PR, Schubert KO, Schweizer BW, Seemüller F, Severino G, Shekhtman T, Shilling PD, Shimoda K, Simhandl C, Slaney CM, Smoller JW, Squassina A, Stamm T, Stopkova P, Tighe SK, Tortorella A, Turecki G, Volkert J, Witt S, Wright A, Young LT, Zandi PP, Potash JB, DePaulo JR, Bauer M, Reininghaus EZ, Novák T, Aubry JM, Maj M, Baune BT, Mitchell PB, Vieta E, Frye MA, Rybakowski JK, Kuo PH, Kato T, Grigoroiu-Serbanescu M, Reif A, Del Zompo M, Bellivier F, Schalling M, Wray NR, Kelsoe JR, Alda M, Rietschel M, McMahon FJ, Schulze TG. Genetic variants associated with response to lithium treatment in bipolar disorder: a genome-wide association study. Lancet. 2016;387(10023):1085-1093.
  4. Jiang X, Detera-Wadleigh SD, Akula N, Mallon BS, Hou L, Xiao T, Felsenfeld G, Gu X, McMahon FJ. Sodium valproate rescues expression of TRANK1 in iPSC-derived neural cells that carry a genetic variant associated with serious mental illness. Mol Psychiatry. 2019;24(4):613-624.
  5. Humphries EM, Ahn K, Kember RL, Lopes FL, Mocci E, Peralta JM, Blangero J, Glahn DC, Goes FS, Zandi PP, Kochunov P, Van Hout C, Shuldiner AR, Pollin TI, Mitchell BD, Bucan M, Hong LE, McMahon FJ, Ament SA. Genome-wide significant risk loci for mood disorders in the Old Order Amish founder population. Mol Psychiatry. 2023.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on Tuesday, August 15, 2023