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Two research teams, one operating in Britain and the other in the United States, have announced the first discovery of the first reliable evidence that specific, multiple genes may be responsible for one kind of depression

Discovery of Depression Genes May Lead to More Effective Treatments

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis in the USA studied depression in 800 American families in which depression "ran in the family." Researchers at King's College in London studied depression in heavy smokers in Australia and Finland. Both research teams found a strong link between depression and variations of genes in part of a chromosome called 3p25-26.

This rare discovery of gene-related depression in the same genes by two different labs is a first in depression research. Scientists hope that identifying the proteins coded by the genes that influence depression may lead to more effective treatment.

Most Antidepressants Don't Work for Most People with Depression

Until now, one of the most difficult aspects of treating depression has been that different people require  different antidepressants, and finding which medication works has been a matter of trial and error. When dosed properly, for example, St. John's wort is as likely to be as effective as Prozac, or as ineffective. No medication (or herb) works in even 50% of people who take it.

Moreover, the medications available to doctors for treating depression cannot be mixed. It often is necessary to be off a medication for 4 to 6 weeks before trying another medication (or herb), to prevent a potentially deadly condition called serotonin syndrome. During this time, the condition of the patient can deteriorate.

Complicating treatment further, many medications interact with foods to cause a condition called serotonin syndrome. Eating walnuts or bananas while taking some medications, for example, sometimes results in a destructive mania that can cause dangerously high blood pressure. An antidepressant may be benign for most people, effective for many, and dangerous in a few.

New Antidepressants May Offer Targeted Relief

Researchers hope that the discovery of multiple depression-related genes may lead to the creation of medications tailor-made for individual needs. Depression results from life experiences and variations in nutrition and toxic exposures, but dealing with the underlying genetic component on an individual basis may be what is needed to create medications that work. These medications just won't be the one-pill-works-for-all that doctors now have.
Dr. Michelle Pergardia, of the Washington University research team, told Reuter's Health that scientists are just beginning to understand the complexities of depression and how genes and personal experiences interact to cause it.

The rewards for finding effective treatment will be great. In the UK and the USA, approximately 1 in 5 people suffers a major depressive episode, usually requiring hospitalization, at some point in life. Approximately 1 in 25 Britons and Americans suffers chronic depression, which is notoriously difficult to treat. The World Health Organization estimates that depression will replace heart disease as the most expensive health condition by 2020. New drugs developed as a result of this discovery, however, are probably 10 to 15 years away.

  • Breen G,Webb BT,Butler AW,van den Oord EJ,Tozzi F,Craddock N,Gill M,Korszun A,Maier W,Middleton L,Mors O,Owen MJ,Cohen-Woods S,Perry J,Galwey NW,Upmanyu R,Craig I,Lewis CM,Ng M,Brewster S,Preisig M,Rietschel M,Jones L,Knight J,Rice J,Muglia P,Farmer AE,McGuffin P. A Genome-Wide Significant Linkage for Severe Depression on Chromosome 3: The Depression Network Study. Am J Psychiatry.2011 May 15. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Photo courtesy of Nathan Csonka by Flickr :