Depression is a mental health issue that tends to run in families. Around 7% of the population of the United States of America will be affected by depression in one year. While the percentage number may not sound very big, it doesn’t reflect how debilitating it can be if you are the person who is experiencing depression. It also doesn’t describe how hard it can be to see one of your loved ones going through a bad depression.
Some people may assume that depression is something that a person should just “get over”. Other people might think that a person becomes depressed because of a bad experience, or a trauma, and that the person will automatically stop being depressed when his or her life gets better. And, of course, there are a variety of different prescription medications that have been used to help a person cope with depression. What hasn’t been as easily understood is why some people tend to experience depression, and why some other people do not, (even when their life gets difficult).
Recent genetic studies have revealed a genetic link to depression. One of these studies has been published in Nature Medicine. There is a pathway called MAPK. In this pathway, there is a gene called MPK-1. People who tend to experience major depression have a MPK-1 gene that is significantly deregulated. The studies showed that raising MPK-1 levels in rats lead to depressive episodes, and that the use of antidepressants as a form of treatment lowered the amount of MPK-1. Stress will increase the amount of MPK-1 that is produced, and too much of it can affect the growth and viability of of neurons in the hippocampus. This can lead to a person experiencing symptoms of a major depression.
Another study was done by Brian Alexander Cornell’s Laboratory of Molecular Neurosurgery. This study used gene therapy on mice that had a specific genetic mutation. The mice were missing a gene called p11. The absence of this gene induces behavior that is very much like depression. The p11 gene regulates serotonin, which is the chemical tied to mood, sleep, and memory. What does this mean for genealogists? It means that you should take a look at your family tree, and see if depression runs in your family.< Return To Blog