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Headlines Published on 07 November 2006

Title European research shedding light on origins of depression

An international team of European researchers has uncovered evidence of the heredity nature of depression. Scientists working in Sweden and Belgium investigated the production of serotonin, long understood as having an influence mental health, in depression sufferers. They recently published their findings in the academic journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

WHO predicts depression will be the most common disease in western societies by 2010. © Hendrike
WHO predicts depression will be the most common disease in western societies by 2010.
© Hendrike
Serotonin plays an important role in a number of different brain functions, including our emotional state and mood changes. Many current medication regimens treating mental disorders include serotonin regulating drugs. The protein TPH-2 (brain-specific tryptophan hydroxylase) is responsible natural for serotonin production and therefore, by extension, has been suspected in the development of depression and manic depression.

The recent study by scientists at Umeå University and Antwerp University looked at the different types of TPH-2 found in the DNA of healthy individuals in comparison to those suffering from different forms of depression.

They discovered that different forms of the inherited TPH-2 protein corresponded to different levels of serotonin. The type of TPH-2 a person has in their genetic make up determines how well they are naturally protected against depression. Healthy individuals possessed a type of TPH-2 that depression sufferers lacked.

This discovery of a genetically linked factor in the development of depression is important to our understanding of the disorder, yet it is just one piece of a much larger puzzle, the researchers stress. The origins of such disorders are complex mixes of hereditary and environmental factors, such as stress, and are still poorly understood by health care professionals.

Depression is one of the most common diseases in the western world, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that it will be the most frequent disease by 2010. A few years ago WHO edited a book on depression describing the condition as a “social and economic timebomb.”

Such disorders can cause a great deal of suffering, increased risk of suicide, and shortened lifetimes, as well as major socio-economic costs for society. Authors of the study agree that despite its prevalence in society, not enough resources are dedicated to the understanding and treatment of depression. The European Commission published a Green Paper on mental health at the end of 2005 calling for a public consultation on the actions that should be taken against mental health disorders.

The research was carried out by a Swedish team of scientists under the direction of Professor Rolf Adolfsson and a Belgian group of researchers from Antwerp University led by Professor Jurgen Del Favero and Ann van Den Boogaert, PhD.

More information:

  • Umeå University
  • Antwerp University
  • Archives of General Psychiatry vol. 63 No. 10
  • Europa: Mental Health
  • Commission Green Paper: Promoting the mental health of the population. Towards a strategy on mental health for the EU

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