Depressing Inheritance

Depression marked by gene RNF123

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Most researchers believe environmental triggers may affect depression.  There is new research suggesting a biological pre-disposition is found in your genes.

A study by a Yale University professor claims to have identified a biomarker for major depression. Called RNF123, doctors localized a gene that may be able to illustrate depression’s “whole picture.”

"Talk to a doctor if exhibiting symptoms of depression.  "

David Glahn, Ph.D., notes, “We still have more work before we truly believe this is a home-run gene, but we've got a really good candidate. Even that has been tough to do in depression.”

Dr. Glahn and his colleagues found the gene by studying a history of data on depression from brain scans to postmortem autopsy tissue. Their goals were twofold: create a ranking system correlating brain structure and its function in mental illness, and thereafter localize the search toward a depression gene or set of genes.

Over 11,000 traits were studied and compared to identify major depression by analyzing the phenotypes of 1,122 Mexican Americans. 

To focus the study, Glahn and his team investigated patients with the Beck Depression Inventory, one of the most widely used tools measuring the severity of depression, brain volume measurements, and by gathering expression levels of RNF123.  

This methodology found RNF123 to be the strongest biological indicator of depressive symptoms. While it has never before been linked to major depression, this gene is known to affect the hippocampus, which has been long related to mental illness and stress.

The hippocampus’ high levels of glucocorticoid receptors tend to make it more vulnerable on stress than other brain areas.

The journal Biological Psychiatry published the study. According to the journal’s editor, John Krystal, M.D., Glahn and his team “provided a very exciting strategy for uniting the various types of data that we collect in clinical research in studies attempting to identify risk genes.”

Co-author on the study, John Blangero, Ph.D., of the AT&T Genomics Computing Center, echoes Dr. Krystal’s enthusiasm in his commentary, explaining that his team focused on linking biomarkers to risk and their results ended them "with something quite exciting.”

Dr. Blangero believes that genetic factors may help doctors and scientists conceptualize the brain processes involved in depression, while individual experiences and symptoms aid in understanding the subjective nature of the disorder.  

Dr. Blangero believes, “The approach employed in this study may help to make use of all of this information, hopefully increasing our ability to identify genes that cause depression or might be targeted for its treatment.”

Further insight into the inner-workings of RNF123 may provide new foundations for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of depression.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 4, 2012
Last Updated:
January 5, 2012