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Risk of teenage depression affected by genes

03 December 2012

By Maren Urner

Appeared in BioNews 684

The risk of depression in adolescents exposed to negative family environments during their childhood is partly dependent on their genetic make-up, suggest researchers.

'Whether we succumb to anxiety and depression depends in part on our tendencies to think well or poorly of ourselves at troubled times. The evidence is that our genes and early childhood experiences contribute to such personal thinking styles', said Professor Ian Goodyer, who led the study at the University of Cambridge.

Researchers analysed the genetic make-up of over 200 teenage participants, specifically looking at a gene encoding the transporter for the brain chemical serotonin. The gene occurs in two forms, long and short, with each individual carrying two copies of the gene - one inherited from each parent.

In addition to the genetic background of the participants, a history of their exposure to family arguments was also collected. The teenagers were then asked to complete a series of computer tests designed to determine how well they could process emotional information.

Teenagers carrying two short copies of the gene, who had also been exposed to prolonged family disputes before the age of six, performed worse in the tests when compared to those carrying two long copies of the gene who had been also exposed to similar childhood adversity.

The inability to easily process emotions was suggested to indicate an increased chance of developing depression, however the results of the computer test were not assessed in this regard.

'We do not know how good a predictor this test is, but this study provides sufficient validity to test it in the field', says Professor Goodyer.

The research is preliminary and requires further investigation, but the authors hope it could lead to the development of an inexpensive screening test for depression and anxiety in children. In the UK four percent of children aged between five and 16 years have an emotional disorder such as depression or anxiety.

Lead author of the study Dr Matthew Owens, from the University of Cambridge, says: 'This research opens up the possibility of identifying individuals at greatest risk and helping them with techniques to process emotions more easily or training them to respond more adaptively to negative feedback'.

The study was published in PLOS One.

NHS Choices | 29 November 2012
PLOS ONE | 28 November 2012
Mail Online | 28 November 2012
Guardian | 28 November 2012
NHS Choices | 15 September 2010
University of Cambridge (press release) | 28 November 2012


13 July 2015 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
New research demonstrates that metabolic over-activity in the brain associated with anxiety and depression is passed from parents to children...
24 February 2014 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
Children carrying a specific variant of an ADHD-related gene are more likely to watch violent TV and play violent video games, research suggests...
08 July 2013 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
Two genetic variants that are involved in the stress response have been linked to postnatal depression.
28 May 2013 - by Matthew Thomas 
A blood test that looks for chemical alterations to certain genes may help predict whether women will suffer post-natal depression, scientists say after a small study...

26 November 2012 - by Dr Nicola Davis 
A gene linked to obesity may also provide protection from major depression, say scientists...
20 August 2012 - by Maren Urner 
Researchers at Yale University in the USA may have found an explanation for why patients with severe depression often show a decreased brain volume in certain areas of the brain...
23 May 2011 - by Dr Rosie Gilchrist 
Scientists believe they have identified a new genetic link to severe depression....
09 May 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
British scientists say they have discovered a link between an individual's satisfaction with life and the type of 5-HTT gene they carry. The 5-HTT gene encodes a transporter for the brain chemical serotonin, which has previously been associated with regulating mood. Individuals carrying the long version of the gene were shown to...
14 February 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
US researchers have found a correlation between levels of the brain chemical neuropeptide Y (NPY) and an individual's emotional wellbeing. Mutations in the NPY gene, leading to decreased levels of the molecule, correlated with a decreased ability to deal with stressful situations and an increased susceptibility to depression....

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