Study Offers Insights on Genetics of Depression

23andMe pointed out a new genome-wide association study that was led by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The study is shedding light on the genetic underpinnings of major depression.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 16 million Americans are affected by depression each year, and nearly 6 million Americans suffer from bipolar. Current treatment options do not always work for people who are living with these conditions. Researchers hope that new insights into the genetics of the condition could help in both diagnosis and treatment.

The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. It included data from the Million Veteran’s Project, the UK Biobank, FinnGen, and from customers at 23andMe who consented to participate in research. After the initial study, researchers cross-checked their findings using an entirely separate cohort from 23andMe that included data from 1.3 million customers who consented to participate in research.

The study scientists were from Yale and the University of California, San Diego. They used data from 1.2 million people to identify 178 genetic variants linked to depression.

A number of genetic variants identified in the study are giving researchers deeper insight into the underlying biology of depression. Researchers point to variants in or near the NEGR1 gene, which is a neural growth regulator active in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain previously linked to depression.

23andMe noted that this confirms research done by late Yale neuroscientist Ronald Dunman on the role of neurotrophic factors in depression.

The size and breadth of the study will also help scientists create models to calculate risk – known as polygenic risk scores – to better estimate the risk for developing major depression or other related psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Beyond estimating the risk, the hope is that new genetic insights will help in identifying better ways for treating depression and related conditions.

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