Scientists find genetic link to depression

Sun May 15, 2011 7:03pm EDT
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Scientists say they have discovered the first solid evidence that variations in some peoples' genes may cause depression -- one of the world's most common and costly mental illnesses.

And in a rare occurrence in genetic research, the findings by a British-led international team have been replicated at the same time by another group from Washington University who were studying an entirely separate group of people.

The researchers said they hoped the findings would bring scientists closer to developing more effective treatments for patients with depression, since currently available medicines for depression only work in around half of patients.

"These findings ... will help us track down specific genes that are altered in people with this disease," said Gerome Breen of King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, who led one of the studies.

He added, however, that any new drugs developed from these findings would be unlikely to be ready for treating patients for another 10 to 15 years.

The first study analysed more 800 families with recurrent depression, while the second examined depression and heavy smoking in a series of families from Australia and Finland.

Both studies were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry on Monday and both teams reported a strong link between depression and genetic variations in a region called chromosome 3p25-26.

"What is remarkable is that two different data sets, gathered for different purposes and studied in different ways found exactly the same region," said Breen, who gave a briefing in London about the work. "Normally in genetic studies of depression, replication of findings is very difficult and frequently takes years to emerge, if ever.   Continued...