Our genes have always had an affect on how we function, but according to new research, the activity level of one specific gene may have a great impact on depression.  

A study performed by Mary Kay Lobo, Ph.D, with other researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, showed that the gene Slc6a15 may be playing an important role in the onset of depression. This gene is located in neurons in the region of the brain that’s largely responsible for the brain’s reward center, which dictates what we feel pleasure from (whether that’s eating, going out with friends, engaging in a hobby, etc). And as many of us know, depression has a greatly negative impact on how we evaluate things that bring us pleasure.

To test this, experiments were performed on mice with varying levels of Slc6a15 expression (activity) on their D2 neurons (neurons sensitive to dopamine, or the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter). Mice that had lower expression of this gene were less apt to handle stressful situations, while those with higher levels of expression were more apt to handle stressful situations. Similar results findings were found in humans that were susceptible to depression: those who had lower activity of Slc6a15 were less resilient to stress and vice versa.

Interestly enough, the same effects occurred when this gene’s activity was artificially brought up or down, implying that future treatments can be applied to people with depression in order to help relieve symptoms. But, more research is needed to see exactly how the gene affects the balance of neurotransmitters that help increase mood/pleasure, such as dopamine.