View All Articles

New Study Shows Link Between DNA and Depression

September 24, 2016

New research bolsters the case that DNA plays a role in the risk for depression.

A team of researchers have found 15 regions of human DNA that are linked to depression. They say these regions may include genes that elevate a person’s risk for the disorder.

The study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, involved self-reported data from more than 75,000 people who were clinically diagnosed with depression and data from more than 231,000 who had no history of depression. All the data analyzed in the study came from people who used the services of the genetics company 23andMe.

Researchers found 17 independent sites within the 15 DNA regions that correlated with a risk for depression, and some of the independent sites were near genes associated with brain development.

This discovery doesn’t mean emphatically that genes cause depression, but it does highlight the impact genetics have on this mood disorder. The models that we currently use to treat depression are nearing a half a century old, meaning new research is critical to providing effective treatment for this disorder. Understanding the role that genes play in depression could help us move closer to developing new and better treatments, and as the study’s researchers said, eliminate a lot of the stigma and misconceptions that surround depression.

Some people act as though depression is a choice and that it’s easy for someone to so-called “snap out of it,” but depressive disorders don’t work that way. This research indicates that genetic irregularities in the brain may be a factor.

Other studies support these findings, as well. Earlier this year, researchers from Vanderbilt University used electronic medical records to examine Neanderthal DNA and find connections to more than 1,600 diseases and traits. They found a link between this DNA and the development of several psychiatric disorders, and variants of Neanderthal DNA that either positively or negatively influenced the risk for depression. The findings are interesting because humans inherit up to 4 percent of their DNA from Neanderthals, the humans species’ closest extinct relative.

All these studies show the power of genome research in helping us understand genetics’ role in human development and potential disease risk. It allows researchers to examine a huge amount of data and draw correlations that could lead to significant scientific discoveries in the future, especially in regards to the risk of disease development and treatment.

About 15 million American adults experience major depression, a disorder that can lead to self-injurious or life-threatening behavior. If we can find a way to more effectively treat depression, it could improve the quality of life — or even save the lives — of millions of people. Understanding how genes function is just the first step toward this end goal.