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Major depression has been linked to changes in DNA, according to a study conducted by the Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
The study found that individuals with depression have a greater amount of mitochondrial DNA and shorter telomerase than their non-depressed counterparts. Depression generally precedes these changes and mitochondria is the major energy source for most cells.
“One of the tantalizing implications of this study is that we might have a biomarker, something we can now send off as a test," co–senior author Jonathan Flint, MD, professor of neuroscience, said.
As a psychiatrist, Flint said it could help him his “diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment" of patients with depression. Though this is just a hypothesis at the moment, it's an interesting lead that scientists can follow up on.
Researchers used saliva samples from 11,670 Chinese women and approximately 50 percent of them have severe depression. The study only included women, since depression signs in men may differ than those in women.
Scientists looked at whole-genome DNA sequencing, which allowed them to look at parts of the genome that have never been analyzed before. One of those things was the mitochondria, which has its own genome. That’s when they discovered that individuals with depression had significant molecular signatures compared to those without depression.
"We wondered whether this was because of the antidepressant drugs subjects had taken, some artifact in the way we selected the people, or some problem with the way we had done the analysis," said Dr Flint. "We couldn't explain it in any of those ways."
Flint noted that the scientists still have a lot to learn about individual resiliency in the face of stress and trauma and their roles in depression. Also, he noted that biological, psychological and environmental factors shouldn’t be ignored.
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