The biggest study of its kind has allowed researchers to identify genetic risk factors associated with major depression, providing new insights for prevention and treatment.
Australian researchers, including Professor Naomi Wray from The University of Queensland, are now seeking volunteers who have been diagnosed with clinical depression to help build on this study to make further advances into the genetics behind the common disorder.
Professor Wray, from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and Queensland Brain Institute, helped lead the international study, which identified 44 genetic variants associated with major depression – 30 of which were previously unknown.
“We showed that we all carry genetic variants for depression, but those with a higher burden are more susceptible,” she said.
“We know that many life experiences also contribute to the risk of depression, but identifying the genetic factors opens new doors for research into the biological drivers.
“We also want to understand the factors that contribute to differences between people in their responses to anti-depressants, so we need to recruit more people into studies that analyse the genomes of depression sufferers.”
The Australian Genetics of Depression Study is seeking volunteers who have been diagnosed with clinical depression to complete an online survey and potentially give a saliva sample.
One of the lead authors, Professor Nick Martin, from Brisbane’s QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, said the study’s aim was to identify additional genetic markers of depression.
“Depression is very complex from a genetic point of view, so the more people we can recruit into the study, the more in-depth information we will have to advance our understanding of this common, but debilitating disease,” he said.
“Our new study involves asking people about their experience with anti-depressants with the aim of finding genetic factors that contribute to the effectiveness of these medicines for individuals.
“Our eventual aim is to develop improved treatments and also to recommend anti-depressants for individuals, based on their genetic make-up, to avoid the potentially long and distressing process of experimenting to find the correct medicine and dosage.”
The initial study, which was co-led by Professor Patrick Sullivan from the University of North Carolina, has been published in the scientific journal Nature Genetics.
It analysed DNA from more than 135,000 people with major depressive disorders and more than 344,000 control samples.