Study Identifies 44 Genetic Risk Factors for Depression

A middle-aged businessman sits on a bench by some shrubbery.Major depression (MDD) affects an estimated 14% of people worldwide. It is the leading cause of disability across the globe.

An international team of researchers has identified 44 genetic risk factors for depression. The team discovered 30 of the 44 factors. The study, published in Nature Genetics, is the largest of its kind.

Researchers Identify New Genetic Links to Depression

The study used several different data sets to create a genome-wide meta-analysis. It included genetic data on 135,458 people diagnosed with major depression. The control group had 344,901 people not diagnosed with depression.

The study identified 44 genetic loci linked to depression. Loci are fixed places on a chromosome. They are often treated as distinct genetic units. Prior studies had identified 14 of the genetic loci listed. This study linked 30 new loci to depression.

The study also found a potential link between depression and other mental health conditions. Researchers identified six loci linked to both depression and schizophrenia. They also found genetic overlap between depression and bipolar.

The study has opened many avenues for further research on depression. The data may one day be used to improve depression treatments. Some researchers say the data may help design new treatments.

Understanding Depression and Genetics

News articles sometimes talk about a “gene for depression,” yet no such gene has been identified. This study, like previous studies, identified unique genetic loci associated with depression. Having certain genetic variants increases the risk of developing depression. Studies have not identified exactly how any gene might cause depression.

According to the study, all humans carry at least some of the identified genes. Thus, additional factors likely play a role in the development of depression. The study explored some of these factors. Researchers found a higher body mass and lower educational attainment were both linked to depression. Genetic risks for depression also overlapped with genes linked to poor sleep quality.

Depression is a complex diagnosis. Cultural, social, and environmental factors can all play a significant role. Some genes may activate only in certain environmental contexts, such as following a traumatic event. Until researchers conduct further tests on each genetic locus, it is premature to say any of the genes “cause” depression.

Although depression has biological underpinnings, it does not have to be permanent. Depression is treatable. If you or a loved one has depression, you can get help from a mental health professional.

References:

  1. Locus (genetics). (2001). ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/locus-genetics
  2. Researchers identify 44 genomic variants associated with depression. (2018, April 26). EurekAlert. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-04/uonc-ri4042518.php
  3. Unprecedented study identifies 44 genetic risk factors for major depression. (2018, April 26). EurekAlert. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-04/kcl-usi042518.php
  4. Wray, N. R., Ripke, S., Mattheisen, M., Trzaskowski, M., Byrn, E. M., . . . Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. (2018). Genome-wide association analyses identify 44 risk variants and refine the genetic architecture of major depression. Nature Genetics 50(1), 668-681. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41588-018-0090-3

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