Genes, stress, and depression
Wurtman RJ.
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences,
and Clinical Research Center,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cambridge 02139, USA.
Metabolism. 2005 May;54(5 Suppl 1):16-9.


A relationship between genetic makeup and susceptibility to major depressive disorder (MDD) has long been suspected on the basis of family and twin studies. A metaanalysis of reports on the basis of twin studies has estimated MDD's degree of heritability to be 0.33 (confidence interval, 0.26-0.39). Among families exhibiting an increased prevalence of MDD, risk of developing the illness was enhanced in members exposed to a highly stressful environment. Aberrant genes can predispose to depression in a number of ways, for example, by diminishing production of growth factors that act during brain development. An aberrant gene could also increase or decrease a neurotransmitter's release into synapses, its actions, or its duration of activity. The gene products of greatest interest at present are those involved in the synthesis and actions of serotonin; among them, the serotonin-uptake protein localized within the terminals and dendrites of serotonin-releasing neurons. It has been found that the Vmax of platelet serotonin uptake is low in some patients with MDD; also, Vmax is highly correlated in twins. Antidepressant drugs such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors act on this uptake protein. The specific genetic locus causing serotonin uptake to be lower in some patients with major depression involves a polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) in the promoter region of the gene for the uptake protein. The gene itself exists as several alleles, the short "S" allele and the long "L" allele. The S variant is associated with less, and the L variant with more, of the uptake protein. The effect of stressful life events on depressive symptoms in young adults was found to be significantly stronger among SS or SL subjects than among LL subjects. Neuroimaging studies showed that people with the SS or SL alleles exhibited a greater activation of the amygdala in response to fearful stimuli than those with LL. It has been reported recently that mutations in the gene that controls serotonin synthesis in the human brain (tryptophan hydroxylase) also predispose to mood disturbances. It may be asked whether people who lack a psychiatric history should be advised to avoid stressful environments if they are found to carry the SS or SL alleles.
Evolutionary ethics
'Artificial' evolution
Germline genetic engineering
Congenital insensitivity to pain
Gene therapy and performance enhancement
Transhumanism (H+): toward a Brave New World?

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