23andMe Study Finds Genetic Ties to Depression

genes and depression
Disease Research

Gene-testing company 23andMe, known for giving customers insight into their heritage, has made a major breakthrough in the study of depression. With data linked to 450,000 volunteers, they have pinpointed 15 regions of the human genome that link to a risk of the mental health issue. [1]

The study was done in conjunction with the drug company Pfizer, which allowed them to access one of the largest pools of participants in a genetic study. Getting this number of people to participate is often extremely difficult, especially when factoring in travel and other efforts and costs.

However, 23andMe has revolutionized the way that they gene test, offering free kits to those who qualify for any given study. In addition to helping scientists learn more about depression, the participants also got information about their heritage and other DNA markers as a perk for helping with the test.

Within the test, 141,000 people with diagnosed depression sent in their DNA. This is a sample group ten times larger than the next-biggest study on the same subject. A further 337,000 people without diagnosed depression were used as the controls.

While this is a major breakthrough for scientific research, it is doubtful that it will lead to any new treatment any time soon. This is largely because many scientists think that depression isn’t simply an inherited disorder, but one that environment can also play a distinct role in as well. Gene therapy, at the moment, cannot be effective for everyone with depression as it helps conditions that may only be controlled by less than two genes. [2]

Douglas Levinson a psychiatrist and gene researcher at Stanford University states:

“The big story is that 23andMe got us over the inflection point for depression. That is exciting. It makes us optimistic that we are finally there.”

So while this discovery may not lead to new treatments any time soon, it may help reduce the stigma associated with depression and mental health. The study shows that depression isn’t a defect in character or a personality flaw, but is an actual condition that means the brain is affected.

23andMe is also studying a wide range of other disorders and diseases to determine their genetic links.


[1] Technology Review

[2] Chicago Tribune