FEB 15, 2019 10:33 AM PST

Huge Genetic Study Reveals New Genes Linked to Depression

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

New research utilizing genetic data from over two million people has identified new genes that are linked to depression. The work, which has been reported in Nature Neuroscience, can shed new light on how depression develops, who might be at risk, and potential new treatment avenues. After assessing health records along with the genetic information, 269 genes were identified. The work is part of the Genetic Links to Anxiety and Depression (GLAD) Study, which is outlined in the video.

“These findings are further evidence that depression is partly down to our genetics,” said the research leader Professor Andrew McIntosh of the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences. “We hope that by launching the GLAD study, we will be able to find out more about why some people are more at risk than others of mental health conditions, and how we might help people living with depression and anxiety more effectively in future.”

In this study, the researchers utilized a statistical method that allows scientists to find causal links between genetic variation and disease risk, called Mendelian randomization. The method suggested that depression may encourage other behaviors like smoking. This research, which was reported in Nature Neuroscience, indicated that people that tend to worry or be fearful, a characteristic called neuroticism, may be at greater risk for depression. 

“This large study is an important advance in understanding how genetic variability might contribute to risk for depression. Given that current treatments work for only half of those who need them, the study provides some intriguing clues for future research to follow up; for example, that biological pathways involved in developing the condition may not be the same as those involved in responding to treatment,” said Raliza Stoyanova, Wellcome's Senior Portfolio Developer for neuroscience and mental health.

People living in Scotland that are suffering from depression or anxiety are invited to participate in a future study that aims to investigate how genetic factors influence mental health. The team wants to obtain health questionnaires and saliva samples from 40,000 people in the UK.

Image credit: Pxhere

“This study adds to the weight of evidence that genes are one of the key risk factors in depression, which is also impacted by life events such as social environment and trauma,” said Sophie Dix, Director of Research at mental health charity MQ, who was not part of this study. “The value of this could really be seen when looking into the development of personalized treatments - a welcome step given the dearth of innovation in identifying new approaches. We have seen very little advancement in nearly 50 years for people living with depression, and right now the avenues available are not working for everyone.”

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of Edinburgh, Nature Neuroscience

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