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Scientists Spot New Genetic Variations Linked To Depression Risk

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Thanks to a novel method of research, a team of scientists from Boston have spotted 15 new DNA regions that appear to be linked with risk of depression.

Researchers examined data from more than 300,000 individuals with European ancestry. The data was collected by 23andMe, a consumer genetic profiling company. More than 75,000 of the study participants were diagnosed or treated for depression.

Scientists combined the data from 23andMe with data from a group of smaller-scale genome-wide association studies that involved 9,200 participants with a history of depression and 9,500 controls. They closely analyzed sites of potential risk genes in samples from both the 23andMe group and the other studies.

The large-scale analysis detected 15 regions of DNA and 17 specific sites that are significantly linked to the risk of developing depression. Some of these sites are located in or near genes that are known to be involved in brain development.

Why The Findings Are Important

While the study does not prove that these DNA regions cause depression, it does say that the regions may be linked to an increased risk of the disorder.

Dr. Roy Perlis, corresponding author of the study and an expert from Massachusetts General Hospital, says current methods to treat depression are neurotransmitter-based models and have been used for four decades now.

Perlis, who is also an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, says identifying the genome that affects depression risk is the first step toward understanding the biology itself.

Researchers hope finding the genes linked to depression will point them toward advanced treatment strategies, especially because new treatment targets are needed today. The research can help scientists develop new and better treatments.

What's more, finding genes that influence depression may establish that it is a brain disease, says Perlis. He adds that doing so may help reduce the stigma still linked to the condition.

Genetic Research

Furthermore, Perlis says the traditional way of genetic studies or recruiting participants is not the only way to look into the matter.

He believes that using biobanks or large data sets may be more efficient or helpful for psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorders, where conventional methods have not worked.

Scientists know that depression can be passed on from generation to generation, but past studies have not identified the variants that influence the risk for the condition.

One previous study did detect two DNA regions that may add to the risk among Chinese women, but the variants are rare in other ethnic groups.

Details of the study are published in the journal Nature Genetics.

Photo: Caroline Davis | Flickr

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