Major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression, is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness. It disrupts day-to-day activities and affects how a person feels, thinks, and behaves.
Over the past 20 years, researchers worked to better understand the biological foundations of depression. During this period, Dr. David Glahn and a team from Yale University and Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living made a discovery that may shed some light on why some people have a more challenging time with the disorder.
Glahn and his team isolated a candidate gene called RNF123. Finding this gene gives hope that someday major depressive disorder be treated with the help of objective information. Traditionally, subjective rating scales and recounting mental health history were the only way to assess a patient’s experience with the disorder.
Most people with major depression find relief with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. RNF123 is potentially another measure and perhaps an advantage for improving treatment. While the gene hasn’t previously been linked to depression, it has been shown to affect the hippocampus, the part of the brain altered in people who experience major depression.
Studies show that a smaller hippocampus has been found in people with recurring episodes of treatment-resistant major depression. The connection is unclear, though two theories have been put forward.
The first is that the PNF123 gene may affect the size of the hippocampus, making a person more vulnerable to depression. The second considers that depression left untreated may affect the size of the hippocampus over time. Both of these theories follow the diathesis-stress hypothesis, which posits that mental and physical disorders can develop due to a biological predisposition to an illness mixed with the stressful conditions of a person’s life.
Glahn’s research study helps increase the ability to identify the genes that could cause depression or be targeted for its treatment. Methods used to collect data included using MRI to look at alterations in brain structure and function and gene expression patterns in post-mortem brain tissue from people who had depression. Glahn and his team also worked to define a better way to rank brain structure and function to measure the genetic importance of an illness.
“We still have more work before believing this is a home-run gene, but we’ve got an excellent candidate,” said Dr. Glahn.
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If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
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