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A human genome has been identified which harbors genes tied to the onset of depression. Scientists from the Texas Biomedical Research institute and Yale University used a Genomics Computing Center (GCC) to find the region by devising a new method for analyzing thousands of potential risk factors for depression. The process led them to a new biomarker. This biomarker may be able to help identify people at risk for major depression before symptoms start to show.
“We were searching for things in psychiatric disease that are the equivalent of what cholesterol is to hear disease,” said John Blangero, PhD, director of the GCC and a principal investigator in the study. “We wanted to find thing that can e measured in everybody and that can tell you something about risk for major depression.”
Major depressive disorder is widespread and costly, both in terms of the individual and society. Up to 17% of people will likely suffer from it, losing productivity, threatening relationships and personal health. The disorder has been a challenge for geneticists to unlock even though there is strong evidence that it is hereditary. Scientists have spent years trying to locate key genes and have had no luck.
Then they found chromosome 4 containing genes that appear to regulate RNF123. I won’t pretend to understand what that really means, but the scientists who do understand it are very excited. RNF123 expression levels can be measure easily in the blood which should make it easy to identify people at risk.
“We might be able to know in advance that a person will be less able to respond to the normal challenges that come about in life,” Blangero explained. “Then doctors may be able to intervene earlier after a traumatic life event to remove some of the debilitation of depression.”
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