The odds are more than two to one that people whose close relatives developed chronic severe unipolar depression when they were young will have it, too, according to results of a multicenter analysis of more than 600 people and their families.
Results of the study, published in the September issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, with Johns Hopkins psychiatrist James B. Potash, M.D., as senior author, show that siblings, parents or children of people diagnosed with chronic major depression before the age of 31 have a 2.52-to-1 chance of also having the disorder. Moreover, first-degree relatives of patients diagnosed with chronic major depression before the age of 13 have a 6.17-to-1 chance of having it. "This chronic form of major depression can be uniquely disabling because of its persistence. Our finding that this aspect of the illness runs in families suggests the value of searching for contributory genes," Potash says, although he cautions that the results also could point to environmental factors, such as loss of a parent at an early age or physical and sexual abuse.
In this study, Potash and his team looked at 638 men and women diagnosed with early-onset major depression and 2,176 of their first-degree family members. The subjects were drawn from the Genetics of Recurrent Early-onset Depression (GenRED) project, a multicenter study of patients enrolled between 1999 and 2003 by Hopkins and other researchers.
Analysis showed that the 226 people interviewed in GenRED who were diagnosed before the age of 31 with chronic major depression had 352 family members who also suffered from this form of disease (37.8%), whereas the remaining 412 had a total of 148 relatives with chronic depression (20.2%). A breakdown of these results showed that 58 people diagnosed before the age of 13 with chronic major depression had 44 family members who also had the disease (48.9%). The remaining 69 people diagnosed with major depression before
Contact: Eric Vohr
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions