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Environ Health Prev Med. 2009 Mar;14(2):71-87. doi: 10.1007/s12199-008-0073-6. Epub 2009 Jan 20.

Molecular epidemiology of major depressive disorder.

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Department of Preventive Medicine, Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Kyushu University, 3-1-1 Maidashi, Higashi-ku, Fukuoka, 812-8582, Japan,


Major depressive disorder causes significant morbidity, affecting people's ability to work, function in relationships, and engage in social activities. Moreover, major depressive disorder increases the risk of suicidal ideation, attempted suicide and death by completed suicide. There is evidence that chronic stress can cause major depressive disorder. As for genetic factors, only minor susceptibility genes have been reliably identified. The serotonin system provides a logical source of susceptibility genes for depression, because this system is the target of selective serotonin reuptake-inhibitor drugs that are effective in treating depression. The 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) transporter (5-HTT) has received particular attention because it is involved in the reuptake of serotonin at brain synapses. One common polymorphic variant of the 5-HTT-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR), which affects the promoter of the 5-HTT gene, causes reduced uptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin into the presynaptic cells in the brain. The authors discussed the relationship between genetic polymorphisms and major depressive disorder, with special emphasis on the 5-HTTTLPR polymorphism. As the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism was significantly associated with an increased risk of major depressive disorder, the 5-HTT gene may be a candidate for a major depressive disorder susceptibility gene. As major depressive disorder is a multifactorial disease, an improved understanding of the interplay of environmental and genetic polymorphisms at multiple loci may help identify individuals who are at increased risk for major depressive disorder. Hopefully, in the future we will be able to screen for major depressive disorder susceptibility by using specific biomarkers.

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