Scientists find genetic link to depression

Mon May 16, 2011 4:46am EDT
 
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - 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, a British-led international team's finding of a DNA region linked to depression has been replicated by another team from the United States who were studying an entirely separate group of people.

"What's remarkable is that both groups found exactly the same region in two separate studies," Pamela Madden, who led the U.S. team at Washington University, said in a statement.

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 the other research group.

The researchers said they believed many genes were involved in depression.

These findings are unlikely to benefit patients immediately, with any new drugs developed from them likely to take another 10 to 15 years. However, they will help scientists understand what may be happening at the genetic and molecular levels in people with depression.

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