Scientists have raised hopes for more effective treatments for depression, an emotional condition that affects over 300 million people globally, after mapping out the genetic foundations of the disorder in unprecedented detail.
The major scientific discoveries reported in April by the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium in Nature Genetics are a hard-won breakthrough in our understanding of this very common and potentially disabling disorder.
The work could also help in the search for drugs to treat the condition which affects as many as one in four people over a lifetime.
For the first time, scientists around the world, with leading contributions from the UK’s world-class centres of psychiatric genetics research have been able to combine DNA data on a large enough sample to pinpoint which locations on the genome are associated with an increased risk of depression.
According to the groundbreaking study more than 200 researchers identified 44 gene variants that raise the risk of depression. Of those, 30 have never been connected to the condition before.
By tripling the number of gene regions linked to depression, scientists now hope to understand more about why the disorder strikes some but not others, even when they have similar life experiences.
If your parents have been depressed, the chances that you have been or will be depressed are significantly increased. The background risk of depression in the general population is about one in four. But if your parents have been depressed, your risk jumps by a factor of three.
Clinical depression is a debilitating condition the causes of which are still largely unknown. According to the World Health Organisation, it is the leading cause of disability globally, costing the global economy as much as $1tn annually with no country on the planet immune.