Scientists have pinned down nearly 80 genes that appear to be linked to depression. Not only does this help to deepen our understanding of the genetics of depression, the discovery could also be used to fine-tune better treatments.
As reported in a new study in Nature Communications, researchers scoured the genetic code to identify multiple areas of the genome that appear to be associated with a person’s susceptibility to depression. To confirm their findings, they then looked at the genes of over 300,000 people who have handed their genetic data to UK Biobank and the private biotech company 23andMe.
In particular, some of the identified genes are involved in the function of synapses, the connectors of your brain wiring that allow your neurons to “talk” to each other through electrical and chemical signals. Other pinpointed genes have been found to be associated with people’s mechanosensory behavior, essentially their sense of touch and their response to physical stimuli.
“Depression is a common and often severe condition that affects millions of people worldwide. These new findings help us better understand the causes of depression,” study author Professor Andrew McIntosh, of the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, said in a statement.
"We hope that the UK's growing health data research capacity will help us to make major advances in our understanding of depression in coming years."
Depression certainly appears to run in families. Previous research on twins estimates that genetic factors account for almost 40 percent of the variation in population risk of depression. However, it is also a complex and fiddly condition, linked to a whole host of environmental and social factors.
“This study identifies genes that potentially increase our risk of depression, adding to the evidence that it is partly a genetic disorder,” added lead author Dr David Howard, Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences. "The findings also provide new clues to the causes of depression and we hope it will narrow down the search for therapies that could help people living with the condition."
Most people know 23andMe as a personal genetics company that offers ancestry and genealogy kits to consumers. As studies like this show, the information can also be used by scientists to provide them with an unprecedented amount of useful data to work with.