VCU researchers discover genetic links between severe trauma and depression

Photo by Michel Maulding

VCU researchers discovered three additional genetic indicators that have a significant effect on those only who have experienced severe trauma, contributing to the likelihood of depression.                                             

Roseann Peterson, a professor at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics and Institute Director Kenneth Kendler, in partnership with the European Bioinformatics Institute and Wellcome Sanger Institute, published their study in the American Journal of Psychiatry early March.

Peterson said the work could help identify subtypes of depression and lead to the development of more individually-targeted methods for treatment.

“The ultimate goal is to identify high-risk individuals for early intervention and personalized medicine,” Peterson said. “Genetic approaches, such as we have applied here, will be increasingly used to illuminate clinically relevant subtypes that will have important downstream implications for diagnosis, subtype biotyping, intervention and treatment.”

The researchers conducted a genome-wide association study — a study of genomes in different individuals to see if any variant is associated with a trait — and identified molecular processes that had not previously been associated with depression.

The Converge Project, an international collaboration of China, Oxford and the VCU Experimental Research on Genetic Epidemiology, used data from 10,000 Han Chinese women from 50 hospitals across China.

In 2015, partners in this study published findings that two brain regions have a connection to an increased risk of developing major depression. Now, researchers factored in life experiences of people in contributing to the risk.

This research extends the 2015 discovery of molecular genetic markers associated with major depressive disorder in Han Chinese women from two variants to five, Peterson said. The three additional genetic indicators were discovered because CONVERGE collected data on adversity measures.

According to Peterson, there is still research left to be done on the subject, and work has already begun on the next phase of this study. The second phase of Converge will see the addition of 24,000 cases of major depressive disorder and 24,000 controls, and together with CONVERGE-I, will give a total available sample size of 60,000 subjects.

“CONVERGE-II will also extend the work by incorporating a detailed life events calendar to allow a more dynamic view of how genes and environment together influence major depressive disorder,” Peterson said.

Logan Reardon, Contributing Writer

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