Could Depression Be Triggered by a Gene?
Depression is one of the most challenging medical conditions to understand and to treat, and its cause has eluded scientists. Now researchers at Yale University believe depression could be triggered by a gene, a finding which could lead to new ways to treat this often debilitating mental health disease.
Depression could be in your genes
Depression is a serious and pervasive disorder that affects approximately 10 percent of Americans age 18 and older in a given year. More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Although depression is common, its causes are not known. People with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains, and brain chemicals called neurotransmitters appear to play a role. Traumatic life events, occurring either in childhood or later in life, seem to be triggers for some individuals, while hormonal changes have also been called to task. And then there is a genetic cause, which scientists have long been trying to identify.
Yale researchers conducted genome scans on tissue samples from 21 deceased adults who had been diagnosed with depression and compared the gene expression levels with those of 18 individuals without depression. One gene stood out: MKP-1,which is known to deactivate a pathway critical for the survival and function of neurons (cells that make up the nervous system). The impairment of this gene has also previously been identified as having a role in depression.
In their samples, the researchers found that MKP-1 was increased more than twofold in the brain tissues of depressed individuals when compared with nondepressed subjects. Ronald S. Duman, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Yale and the senior author of the study, noted that MKP-1 “could be a primary cause, or at least a major contributing factor, to the signaling abnormalities that lead to depression.”
One of the challenges in treating depression is the fact that about 40 percent of depressed patients do not respond to any of the medications currently available. The researchers believe their finding places the MKP-1 gene as a potential target for new treatments.
Individuals who have severe depression may be especially difficult to treat, and the longer a person is depressed, the harder it may be to control. Thus discovery of a gene that may trigger depression could be very good news for the millions of Americans who have tried various medications and become discouraged by a lack of success.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
National Institute of Mental Health