United Kingdom scientists have identified nearly 80 genes associated with depression, a finding that could help explain why some people may be at a higher risk of developing the condition.
Experts believe the findings could also help researchers develop drugs to tackle mental disorders.
Depression affects one in five people in the U.K. every year and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Life events such as trauma or stress can contribute to its onset, but it is not clear why some people are more likely to develop the condition than others.
In the new study, University of Edinburgh scientists led the investigation which analyzed data from UK Biobank, a research resource containing health and genetic information for half a million people.
The scientists scanned the genetic code of 300,000 people to identify areas of DNA that could be linked to depression.
Researchers discovered that some of the pinpointed genes are known to be involved in the function of synapses, tiny connectors that allow brain cells to communicate with each other through electrical and chemical signals.
The scientists then confirmed their findings by examining anonymized data held by the personal genetics and research company 23andMe, used with the donors’ consent.
The study, funded by Wellcome Trust is a part of the Stratifying Resilience and Depression Longitudinally investigation, a nearly $7 million government project to better understand depression.
Findings appear in the journal Nature Communications.
Research leader Professor Andrew McIntosh of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, explains: “Depression is a common and often severe condition that affects millions of people worldwide. These new findings help us better understand the causes of depression and show how the UK Biobank study and big data research has helped advance mental health research.
“We hope that the UK’s growing health data research capacity will help us to make major advances in our understanding of depression in coming years.”
Dr. David Howard, research fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences and lead author of the study, said, “This study identifies genes that potentially increase our risk of depression, adding to the evidence that it is partly a genetic disorder.
“The findings also provide new clues to the causes of depression and we hope it will narrow down the search for therapies that could help people living with the condition.”