STRESSFUL events in early life can significantly increase the risk of a person suffering depression as they age, according to researchers in Trinity College. The stress can lead to changes in our genetic expression, which can in turn be passed on to another generation, the team from the Institute of Neuroscience and Department of Psychiatry discovered.
They are basing their research on epigenetics, which explains how gene expression is regulated by temporary switches, called epi-marks. These constitute an extra layer of information attached to our genes that determine their effect on our development.
The research, published in the 'Journal of Effective Disorders', found that environmental factors, such as childhood abuse or deprivation, affect genetic expression in the body.
Research Fellow in Trinity College's Institute of Neuroscience, Dr Victoria Dalton, said the findings also give hope that they may be on the right path towards developing successful antidepressant therapies.
"Recent research shows that depressed patients have a different epigenetic profile compared with control subjects. What is particularly interesting is that any epigenetic changes that result from stressful events can also be passed on through subsequent generations. On a deeper level, we are of course seeking to combat depression, which is such a terrible, debilitating disease for so many people."
The study points out that the associated costs of depression account for 1pc of the EU economy, or €113bn a year for all mood disorder, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests depression could be the world's second-most debilitating disorder by 2020.