Depression breakthrough

SCIENTISTS have found a gene that appears to play a key role in the onset of depression.

The finding could unlock new avenues for drug engineers.

A gene, MKP-1, was identified by Yale University investigators after comparing the genetic codes of 21 deceased people diagnosed with depression with those of 18 who were not depressed.

MKP-1 plays the role of an off-switch over a cascade of brain chemicals called MAPK that are crucial to the survival and function of neurons, according to the paper, which appears in the journal Nature Medicine.

“This could be a primary cause of, or at least a major contributing factor to, the signalling abnormalities that lead to depression,” said lead author Ronald Duman, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology.

The scientists created “knockout” mice whose MKP-1 had been deactivated.

They were happily resilient to stress.

But stressed mice with the gene developed depression-like symptoms, which were then eased by using anti-depression drugs.

As many as 40 per cent of depressed patients do not respond to drugs, which are mainly based on boosting uptake of a brain chemical called serotinin. The finding “identifies MKP-1 as a potential target for a novel class of therapeutic agents, particularly for treatment-resistant depression”, the university said.

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