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Stanford-led study closes in on genes that may predispose some people to severe depression

Some people appear to be genetically predisposed to developing severe depression, but researchers have yet to pin down the genes responsible. Now, a specific region rife with promise has been located on one chromosome by a consortium of researchers working under Douglas Levinson, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

"This finding has a very good chance of leading to a discovery of a gene that could yield important information about why some people develop depression," said Levinson. If problematic genetic variations could be identified, it would open the door to a whole new world of investigation, and eventually, treatment possibilities. The team's results are reported in two papers that will be published in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Levinson's group, comprising researchers from six universities, achieved this breakthrough by studying 650 families in which at least two members suffered from repeated bouts of severe depression that began in childhood or early adult life. The first of the studies was a genome-wide scan that looked for evidence of genetic "linkage" within families between depression and DNA markers on the various chromosomes. The linkage study identified regions worthy of more intensive examination.

The second study was a more detailed look at the most suspicious of these regions, located on chromosome 15. Levinson said the team studied six DNA markers in this region in the first study, and an additional 88 in the second. "We found highly significant evidence for linkage to depression in this particular part of chromosome 15," he said. "This is one of the strongest genetic linkage findings for depression so far."

"It's an important paper," said Peter McGuffin, MD, dean of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College in London, who was not involved in the study. McGuffin wrote a commenta
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Source:Stanford University Medical Center


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