Genetic breakthrough sheds new light on depression

Depression has long been known to run in families but landmark research in the United States may have revealed the reason why.

A team from Harvard University has isolated 17 genetic variants linked to depression that could now pave the way for drugs that target those specific genes.

“My group has been chasing depression genes for more than a decade without success, so as you can imagine we were really thrilled with the outcome,” lead author Professor Roy Perlis told Business Insider magazine.

His team went through data collected from more than 75,000 people who’d been clinically diagnosed with depression and a further 231,000 people with no history of depression. They were then able to drill down to isolate areas in DNA with links to depressive disorders.

Scientists have previously shown a genetic association to depression in an Asian population but this is the first time it’s been reported in people of European descent.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Genetics, show the potential of using biobanks for research. In this case, the scientists went through the database of a Californian consumer genomics company.

Various research has shown that people whose parents or siblings have depression are more likely to develop it themselves, but the direct scientific reason has been unclear.

Dr Perlis says his research provides some vital clues: “This is a first step towards understanding the disease biology itself.”