Genetic Markers for Depression Identified for the First Time

Despite strong evidence that major depressive disorder (MDD) is an inherited disease, previous studies have not been able to identify genetic risk factors among individuals of European descent. However, thanks to a partnership between researchers and a direct-to-consumer genetics company, researchers have now identified 15 genetic markers for depression.

A team including investigators from Mass General used self-reported data from 75,607 individuals reporting a clinical diagnosis of depression and 231,747 individuals reporting no history of depression. The data was provided through the commercial genetic testing company 23andMe, whose customers consented to have their genetic information and medical histories used for research purposes.

With access to such a large cross-section of genetic and patient information, the research team was able to identify 15 regions of the genome that indicate a disposition for depression.

These insights may make it possible to develop more effective drugs that target depression on the genetic level, as opposed to traditional treatments that seek to regulate neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

More generally, finding genes associated with depression should help make clear that this is a brain disease, which we hope will decrease the stigma still associated with these kinds of illnesses,” says Roy Perlis, MD, MSc, co-corresponding author of the report.

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Meat-Based Proteins Increase Death Rates for Individuals with Unhealthy Lifestyles

It’s not just how much protein you eat, but where you get that protein from—especially if you have unhealthy lifestyle habits. That’s the conclusion of a recent Mass General and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health research study examining the health effects of consuming animal- and plant-based proteins.

The study found that a high intake of proteins from animal sources—particularly processed and unprocessed red meats—was associated with a higher death rate, while a high intake of protein from plant sources led to a lower risk of death.

A closer look showed that the connection between animal proteins and a higher death rate only applied to participants with at least one unhealthy lifestyle factor—such as obesity, being underweight, smoking, heavy drinking or being inactive. Furthermore, consuming meat-based proteins such as chicken or fish did not have the same negative effects as proteins from red meats.

Our findings have public health implications and can help refine current dietary recommendations about protein intake, in light of the fact that it is not only the amount of protein but the specific food source that is critical for long-term health,” said Mingyang Song, MD, ScD, corresponding author of the report.

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Lower Weight Late in Life May Increase the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

Researchers at Mass General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have found an association between lower weights and higher levels of an Alzheimer’s disease-associated protein in the brains of older individuals. The association was particularly strong in individuals who have a gene variant that is known to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Finding this association [in combination] with a strong marker of Alzheimer’s disease risk reinforces the idea that being underweight as you get older may not be a good thing when it comes to your brain health,” said Gad Marshall, MD, of the Mass General and BWH Departments of Neurology, senior author of the report.

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