By analyzing the genomes of more than 135,000 people with depression and comparing them with the genomes of 344,000 people without depression, a global team of researchers identified 44 specific places in the human genome, called loci, with links to depression. The findings are a step toward elucidating the biological underpinnings of depression and could be used to improve treatments.
Major depression is a serious public health issue, yet little is known about the biological mechanisms of the disorder and treatment options are limited. The analysis identified 30 new loci and confirmed 14 other loci that have statistically significant associations to depression. The researchers also identified 153 significant genes related to depression. Known targets of antidepressant medications were among the loci identified in the study, including six loci that were associated with schizophrenia. The study also found that genetic loci for depression overlap with those linked to bipolar disorder, obesity, and several sleep disorders, such as insomnia and daytime sleepiness. As has been true for research on the genetics of other psychiatric disorders, identifying genetic influences on depression required a consortium of research studies involving very large numbers of people with and without depression.
The analysis included patient data from the Genetic Epidemiology Research in Adult Health and Aging, or GERA Cohort, a component of the Research Program on Genes, Environment, and Health (RPGEH), which was developed by Kaiser Permanente in collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco. RPGEH is part of the National Institutes of Health online genetics database, the database of Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP), which the study analyzed.
“Our biobank was instrumental in this study, which we hope will lead to a better understanding of depression and open new directions for further research and improved treatment,” said Catherine Schaefer, PhD, Director of the RPGEH and a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research who, along with the Division of Research’s Eric Jorgenson, was a co-author on this study.
The study, “Genome-wide association analyses identify 44 risk variants and refine the genetic architecture of major depression,” was published April 26 in the journal Nature Genetics.
The National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the research.
The study involved more than 200 scientists from 161 institutions around the world who work with the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. The research was co-led by Patrick Sullivan, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Genetics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and Naomi Wray, a post-doctoral fellow at the Queensland Brain Institute.
Click here to read the full press release on the University of North Carolina School of Medicine’s website.