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Transl Psychiatry. 2017 Aug 15;7(8):e1205. doi: 10.1038/tp.2017.148.

Do regional brain volumes and major depressive disorder share genetic architecture? A study of Generation Scotland (n=19 762), UK Biobank (n=24 048) and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (n=5766).

Author information

Division of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh, Royal Edinburgh Hospital, Edinburgh, UK.
Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.
Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine, Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK.
Division of Population Health Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK.
Division of Applied Medicine, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK.
Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK.
Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a heritable and highly debilitating condition. It is commonly associated with subcortical volumetric abnormalities, the most replicated of these being reduced hippocampal volume. Using the most recent published data from Enhancing Neuroimaging Genetics through Meta-analysis (ENIGMA) consortium's genome-wide association study of regional brain volume, we sought to test whether there is shared genetic architecture between seven subcortical brain volumes and intracranial volume (ICV) and MDD. We explored this using linkage disequilibrium score regression, polygenic risk scoring (PRS) techniques, Mendelian randomisation (MR) analysis and BUHMBOX. Utilising summary statistics from ENIGMA and Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, we demonstrated that hippocampal volume was positively genetically correlated with MDD (rG=0.46, P=0.02), although this did not survive multiple comparison testing. None of the other six brain regions studied were genetically correlated and amygdala volume heritability was too low for analysis. Using PRS analysis, no regional volumetric PRS demonstrated a significant association with MDD or recurrent MDD. MR analysis in hippocampal volume and MDD identified no causal association, however, BUHMBOX analysis identified genetic subgrouping in GS:SFHS MDD cases only (P=0.00281). In this study, we provide some evidence that hippocampal volume and MDD may share genetic architecture in a subgroup of individuals, albeit the genetic correlation did not survive multiple testing correction and genetic subgroup heterogeneity was not replicated. In contrast, we found no evidence to support a shared genetic architecture between MDD and other regional subcortical volumes or ICV.

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