Researchers from University College London (UCL) have made a big discovery in understanding depression, a common but complex mental health disorder.
In a study published in Nature Genetics, they identified over 200 new genes associated with depression, marking a significant leap in the genetic study of the condition.
This global study, the first of its kind on such a large scale, involved nearly one million participants from diverse ancestry groups, including African, East Asian, South Asian, and Hispanic/Latin American backgrounds.
Among these were 88,316 individuals diagnosed with major depression. The research identified more than 50 new genetic loci (specific positions on chromosomes) and 205 novel genes linked to depression.
One of the most striking findings is the potential for drug repurposing. For instance, the gene NDUFAF3, which was among those identified, encodes a protein targeted by metformin, a common diabetes medication.
This finding is particularly intriguing as animal studies have suggested a link between metformin and reduced depression and anxiety, hinting at new avenues for depression treatment research.
The study also broadens the understanding of depression beyond the genetic scope of people of European ancestry, addressing a critical gap in previous research.
Interestingly, the researchers found that the genetic correlations for depression varied significantly among different ancestry groups, with about a 30% overlap.
This suggests that some genetic factors contributing to depression may be specific to certain ancestries, emphasizing the importance of inclusive and diverse genetic research.
Professor Karoline Kuchenbaecker, the lead author of the study, highlighted the Eurocentric bias in genetics research, especially for complex diseases like depression. She pointed out that many genes previously linked to depression risk might only be relevant in people of European descent. Therefore, to develop effective treatments for a global population, it’s crucial to include diverse genetic datasets.
The findings of this study represent a first step in a much larger journey of discovery. The identification of these new genetic targets lays the groundwork for future research, which will be essential in confirming these findings and potentially leading to the development of new medications for depression.
Professor Kuchenbaecker’s team has set a new standard for genetic research in mental health, emphasizing the need for diversity and the potential for novel therapeutic avenues.
This study not only enriches the understanding of depression’s genetic underpinnings but also opens up exciting possibilities for more effective and inclusive treatments.
If you care about depression, please read studies about how dairy foods may influence depression risk, and B vitamins could help prevent depression and anxiety.
For more information about mental health, please see recent studies that ultra-processed foods may make you feel depressed, and extra-virgin olive oil could reduce depression symptoms.
The research findings can be found in Genetics.
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