Early Genetic Markers for Depression Differ in Men, Women. (16 Sex-Specific Markers Identified)

By Sullivan, Michele G. | Clinical Psychiatry News, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Early Genetic Markers for Depression Differ in Men, Women. (16 Sex-Specific Markers Identified)


Sullivan, Michele G., Clinical Psychiatry News


The genetic markers associated with early-onset major depressive disorder differ in men and women, reported Dr. George Zubenko of the University of Pittsburgh and his colleagues.

In a DNA study of 100 patients identified by structured psychiatric interviews and medical records as having recurrent, nonpsychotic episodes of unipolar depression beginning before age 25, and 100 controls with no history of major depression, the investigators found 16 sex-specific genetic markers for the disorder. Nine of the markers were present in women and seven of the markers appeared in men, but none of the markers appeared in both women and men (Am. J. Med. Genet. 114[4]:413-22, 2002).

Finding so many sex-linked susceptibility genes surprised Dr. Zubenko. "There was preexisting evidence to suggest that at least some might be sex specific," he said. "What we didn't anticipate was that sex-specific genes would be the rule rather than the exception."

Although clinical applications remain at least 10 years away, the results, if confirmed, could provide new opportunities for drug development and treatment of the disorder, Dr. Zubenko said. "We may be able to identify constellations of these genetic markers that elicit a better response to one particular treatment that we already have."

He hopes these findings can be replicated with further, ongoing research, which also may reveal more specific relationships between the markers and the comorbid disorders that are associated with major depressive disorders.

The new findings build on Dr. Zubenko's earlier work, which confirmed other studies showing a strong familial pattern of major depressive disorder (MDD). Dr. Zubenko had already found that first-degree relatives of patients with recurrent, early-onset major depressive disorder (REMDD) were 7.7 times more likely to develop MDD than the general population; extended relatives of the patients were almost four times more likely to develop the disorder than the general population.

Relatives of patients with RE-MDD died an average of 8 years earlier than the general population, not only of suicide and complications of substance abuse, but of natural causes as well, he found. More than 40% of the relatives died before age 65 (Am. J. Med. Genet. 105[8]:690-99, 2001).

Dr. Zubenko's current study was designed to identify susceptibility loci that influence the development of early-onset depression. This investigation compared the genetic makeup of 50 white men and 50 white women with RE-MDD with the genetic makeup of 50 white men and 50 white women who did not have the disorder.

Patients in the study group had had at least two episodes of major depressive disorder, with the first episode occurring before age 25. …

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