Genes are not destiny in determining whether an individual will suffer from depression, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study. Environment is a major factor, and nurture can override nature.
When rats genetically bred for depression received the equivalent of rat “psychotherapy,” their depressed behavior was alleviated. And, after the depressed rats had the therapy, some of their blood biomarkers for depression changed to non-depressed levels.
“The environment can modify a genetic predisposition to depression,” said lead study investigator Eva Redei, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “If someone has a strong history of depression in her family and is afraid she or her future children will develop depression, our study is reassuring. It suggests that even with a high predisposition for depression, psychotherapy or behavioral activation therapy can alleviate it.”
The study also found genetic influences and environmental influences on depression likely work through different molecular pathways. Rats bred for depression and rats that were depressed due to their environment showed changes in the levels of entirely different blood markers for depression. Being able to differentiate between the two types of depression eventually could lead to more precise treatment with medication or psychotherapy.
The study was published March 29 in Translational Psychiatry, a Nature journal.
The rats in the Northwestern study had been bred for depression-like behavior for 33 generations and showed extreme despair.
“You don’t have people who are completely genetically predisposed to depression the way the rats were,” Redei said. “If you can modify depression in these rats, you most certainly should be able to do it in humans.”
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