Resesarchers at Yale University have recently identified a gene they believe is a primary cause of depression.
In a study published last October in the journal Nature Medicine, the gene MKP-1 was found to be twice as active in depressed individuals as in those without depression.
Scientists located the gene by completing whole genome scans on the brain tissue of 21 deceased patients known to have experienced depression and 18 who did not have depression. MKP-1 was twice as active in the tissue of the depressed individuals.
The same group also found that when the gene was deactivated in mice, the mice showed a resilience to stress.
Likewise when it was activated, the mice exhibited symptoms consistent with depression.
MKP-1 blocks important pathways for the survival and function of neurons in the brain.
This study’s lead researcher believes it could be an important contributing factor to the brain signalling abnormalities common in depression.
Clinical depression affects roughly 15 per cent of adults at some point in life and occurs when a person experiences a depressed mood for prolonged periods of time with sometimes no correlation to life circumstances.
Aside from feelings of sadness, other psychological symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness, low self esteem, impaired memory, difficulty concentrating, anxiety and preoccupation with negative thoughts.
It is a systemic illness with many corresponding physical symptoms as well, including aches and pains, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, chest pain, back pain, intestinal complaints, diarrhea or constipation, menstrual dysfunction and headaches.
Clinical depression is usually a chronic, recurrent condition that comes and goes (often with increasing frequency and severity) over a person’s lifetime. Currently, as many as 40 per cent of individuals seeking treatment for depression do not respond to available medications and it often takes weeks for antidepressant medications to take effect in those for whom treatment does work.
Locating a new gene of importance in this condition offers a potential target for a new class of medication, which could help the many people whose depression is currently resistant to treatment.
Pinpointing a genetic marker or cause of depression could also lead to more exact diagnosis as well as the possibility to create a test to identify those who are vulnerable to the condition.
At Okanagan Clinical Trials, we currently have an ongoing study examining an investigational medication to possibly treat depression in bipolar disorder. Contact us for more information or to learn if you may be eligible.
Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials.