The genetics of depression: volunteers wanted

Monday, 10 April, 2017

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If you’re over 18 and you’ve been treated for clinical depression, you’re invited to join a global investigation into the genetic origins of this common and devastating mental illness.

Clinical depression is a complex illness that often occurs in families and is typically caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences. The Australian Genetics of Depression Study, which is the Australian arm of an international study, is now recruiting Australian adults in its quest to learn more about the genetic drivers of depression.

“We now understand from modern neuroscience, brain imaging, brain scans and other studies that the brain changes during clinical depression,” said Professor Ian Hickie of the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, a co-investigator on the Australian study.

“What we don’t understand, however, are the genetic causes in brain development that put you at risk of developing clinical depression.

“That’s why we need Australian adults who have been or are continuing to be treated for clinical depression by a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist… to help us find the genetic causes.”

Participating in the study is free and easy, said Professor Hickie. Volunteers simply complete a 15-minute online survey and, depending on their responses, may be asked to donate a saliva sample. DNA from these samples will be used to identify genes that may be associated with depression; the researchers will then use genome-wide association scans to look for genetic similarities and differences that may explain why some people experience depression and others don’t.

“We are aiming to identify genetic factors that influence why various treatments for clinical depression are successful for some people, but not for others,” said the Australian study’s lead investigator, Professor Nick Martin of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

“Identification of the genes that predispose people to clinical depression could revolutionise future research into causes, treatment and prevention of the illness.”

The announcement of the study follows the revelation that depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The illness was also the theme of the 2017 World Health Day on 7 April.

Researchers are working to recruit more than 20,000 Australians to the study. To volunteer or to learn more, visit

Image caption: ©dizain/Dollar Photo Club

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