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Scientists have discovered nearly 80 genes that could be linked to depression, an advance that may help explain why some people are at a higher risk of developing the condition. The study led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the UK could also help develop drugs to tackle mental ill-health.
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the research published in the journal Nature Communications.
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. Scientists analysed data from UK Biobank — a research resource containing health and genetic information for half a million people. They scanned the genetic code of 300,000 people to identify areas of DNA that could be linked to depression.
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 anonymised data held by the personal genetics and research company 23andMe, used with the donors’ consent. “Depression is a common and often severe condition that affects millions of people worldwide,” said Andrew McIntosh, a professor at the University of Edinburgh.
“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,” said McIntosh.
“This study identifies genes that potentially increase our risk of depression, adding to the evidence that it is partly a genetic disorder,” said David Howard, Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh.
“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,” he said