The research, published by Cell Press in the journal Neuron, suggests a previously unrecognized mechanism for major depression, a disorder responsible for a substantial loss in work productivity and that can even lead to suicide in some individuals, a Cell Press release said Wednesday.
"Current treatments for major depression are indispensable but their clinical efficacy is still unsatisfactory, as reflected by high rates of treatment resistance and side effects," researcher Dr. Martin A. Kohli of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, said. "Identification of mechanisms causing depression is pertinent for discovery of better antidepressants."
While a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors is probably involved in major depression, the researchers were able to identify SLC6A15, a gene that codes for a neuronal amino acid transporter protein, as a susceptibility gene for major depression.
Study subjects carrying the risk-conferring genetic variant showed lower expression of SLC6A15 in the hippocampus, a brain region implicated in major depression, the researchers said.
"Because SLC6A15 appears amenable to drug targeting, our results may incite the discovery of a novel class of antidepressant drugs," researcher Dr. Elisabeth B. Binder said.