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Origins of depression brought into focus in large-scale genetic study

Feb 2019: CCBS-led research has identified hundreds of genes newly linked to depression, shedding light on the origins of the condition and highlighting personality types that could be at risk.

The work, led by Prof Andrew McIntosh, was an international study involving more than two million people, the largest of its kind.

The researchers studied information pooled from three large datasets of anonymised health and DNA records and pinpointed 269 genes that were linked to depression. They also used an innovative statistical method called Mendelian randomisation to identify sections of DNA that were common in people with depression and in those who adopted lifestyle behaviours such as smoking.

The findings suggest that depression could be a driving factor leading some people to smoke. The results also show that neuroticism – a tendency to be worried or fearful – could lead people to become depressed, which could shed light on personality factors that put people at risk.

The anonymised data, used with donor consent, is held by UK Biobank, the personal genetics and research company 23andMe and the Psychiatry Genomics Consortium. The study reflects the importance of data science in understanding mental health and the leading role that Scotland plays in this field.

Participants needed for further research study

The team is inviting people with depression or anxiety in Scotland to take part in The Genetic Links to Anxiety and Depression (GLAD) study, to understand more about the role of DNA in common mental health conditions.  The team hopes to collect saliva samples and questionnaires from 40,000 people across the UK.

To sign up for GLAD or find out more, please visit gladstudy.org.uk/scotland/


These findings are further evidence that depression is partly down to our genetics.

We hope that by launching the GLAD study, we will be able to find out more about why some people are more at risk than others of mental health conditions, and how we might help people living with depression and anxiety more effectively in future.

Prof Andrew McIntoshChair of Biological Psychiatry, Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences


The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, was funded by Wellcome and the Medical Research Council.

Related links

Read the article in Nature Neuroscience: Genome-wide meta-analysis of depression identifies 102 independent variants and highlights the importance of the prefrontal brain regions. doi.org/10.1038/s41593-018-0326-7

Prof Andrew McIntosh's profile

Dr David Howard's profile

Complex trait genetics research at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences

Psychiatric disorders research at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences