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Genome-wide meta-analysis of depression identifies 102 independent variants and highlights the importance of the prefrontal brain regions

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David M. Howard, Mark J. Adams, Toni-kim Clarke, Jonathan D. Hafferty, Jude Gibson, Masoud Shirali, Jonathan R. I. Coleman, Saskia P. Hagenaars, Joey Ward, Eleanor M. Wigmore, Clara Alloza, Xueyi Shen, Miruna C. Barbu, Eileen Y. Xu, Heather C. Whalley, Riccardo E. Marioni, David J. Porteous, Gail Davies, Ian J. Deary, Gibran Hemani & 18 more Klaus Berger, Henning Teismann, Rajesh Rawal, Volker Arolt, Bernhard T. Baune, Udo Dannlowski, Katharina Domschke, Chao Tian, David A. Hinds, Maciej Trzaskowski, Enda M. Byrne, Stephan Ripke, Daniel J. Smith, Patrick F. Sullivan, Naomi R. Wray, Gerome Breen, Cathryn M. Lewis, Andrew M. Mcintosh

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-352
Number of pages10
JournalNature Neuroscience
Issue number3
Early online date4 Feb 2019
Accepted/In press11 Dec 2018
E-pub ahead of print4 Feb 2019
PublishedMar 2019


King's Authors


Major depression is a debilitating psychiatric illness that is typically associated with low mood, anhedonia and a range of comorbidities. Depression has a heritable component that has remained difficult to elucidate with current sample sizes due to the polygenic nature of the disorder. To maximise sample size, we meta-analysed data on 807,553 individuals (246,363 cases and 561,190 controls) from the three largest genome-wide association studies of depression. We identified 102 independent variants, 269 genes, and 15 gene-sets associated with depression, including both genes and gene-pathways associated with synaptic structure and neurotransmission. Further evidence of the importance of prefrontal brain regions in depression was provided by an enrichment analysis. In an independent replication sample of 1,306,354 individuals (414,055 cases and 892,299 controls), 87 of the 102 associated variants were significant following multiple testing correction. Based on the putative genes associated with depression this work also highlights several potential drug repositioning opportunities. These findings advance our understanding of the complex genetic architecture of depression and provide several future avenues for understanding aetiology and developing new treatment approaches.

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