Study suggests people with galanin variant more susceptible to stress-induced depression

March 25, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
Vincent van Gogh's 1890 painting

(Medical Xpress)—A research team with members from Hungary, Sweden and the U.K. has found a link between a galanin variant and people who develop depression after experiencing a high degree of stress. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes how they applied statistical methods to the medical histories of 2,361 people from the U.K. and Hungary, and found patterns regarding galanin levels and depression.

For many years, biological researchers have focused on the neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenalin when investigating the cause of in people—because links have been found. Because of that, drugs developed to fight depression mainly involve causing changes to either or both. But many patients don't respond to such treatment, which suggests something else may be involved as well. In this latest effort, the researchers looked at a brain chemical called galanin—it's a peptide believed to be involved in sleep, hunger recognition, blood pressure and mood.

To find out if galanin might play a role in depression, the researches accessed the medical records of 2,361 white European patients and performed various types of statistical analysis on the data they found. In so doing, they discovered a pattern—people who had a certain galanin variant and who also experienced a traumatic, stressful event, tended to be more likely to develop depression than people who had experienced a similar event, but did not have the variant. This pattern suggests that people who have the galanin variant are more vulnerable to developing depression if they happen to experience a traumatic event. It also suggests that depression, as has been suggested by many researchers, is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, rather than just one or the other, as others have maintained.

Prior research has found that traumatic stress that can contribute to depression can range from child abuse to a traumatic physical event later in life such as being raped or harmed in other ways. But the same studies show that not everyone who experiences such events develops depression. The results of this latest study suggest that the difference might lie in whether a person has a galanin variant. If so, sometime in the near future, people who have the variant might be given medication to change its levels should they undergo a traumatic event, thus warding off a likely case of depression.

Explore further: Maternal posttraumatic stress disorder associated with increased risk for child maltreatment

More information: Brain galanin system genes interact with life stresses in depression-related phenotypes, Gabriella Juhasz, PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1403649111

Galanin is a stress-inducible neuropeptide and cotransmitter in serotonin and norepinephrine neurons with a possible role in stress-related disorders. Here we report that variants in genes for galanin (GAL) and its receptors (GALR1, GALR2, GALR3), despite their disparate genomic loci, conferred increased risk of depression and anxiety in people who experienced childhood adversity or recent negative life events in a European white population cohort totaling 2,361 from Manchester, United Kingdom and Budapest, Hungary. Bayesian multivariate analysis revealed a greater relevance of galanin system genes in highly stressed subjects compared with subjects with moderate or low life stress. Using the same method, the effect of the galanin system genes was stronger than the effect of the well-studied 5-HTTLPR polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4). Conventional multivariate analysis using general linear models demonstrated that interaction of galanin system genes with life stressors explained more variance (1.7%, P = 0.005) than the life stress-only model. This effect replicated in independent analysis of the Manchester and Budapest subpopulations, and in males and females. The results suggest that the galanin pathway plays an important role in the pathogenesis of depression in humans by increasing the vulnerability to early and recent psychosocial stress. Correcting abnormal galanin function in depression could prove to be a novel target for drug development. The findings further emphasize the importance of modeling environmental interaction in finding new genes for depression.

Press release

Related Stories

Maternal posttraumatic stress disorder associated with increased risk for child maltreatment

September 2, 2013
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in mothers appears to be associated with an increased risk for child maltreatment beyond that associated with maternal depression, according to a study published by JAMA Pediatrics.

Depression may increase your risk of Parkinson's disease

October 2, 2013
People who are depressed may have triple the risk of developing Parkinson's disease, according to a study published in the October 2, 2013, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Study finds traumatic life events biggest cause of anxiety and depression

October 16, 2013
A study by psychologists at the University of Liverpool has found that traumatic life events are the biggest cause of anxiety and depression, but how a person thinks about these events determines the level of stress they ...

Teen concussions increase risk for depression

January 10, 2014
Teens with a history of concussions are more than three times as likely to suffer from depression as teens who have never had a concussion, finds a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Study finds no evidence that vitamin D supplements reduce depression

March 18, 2014
Vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in numerous health conditions in recent years, including depressed mood and major depressive disorder. Recent observational studies provide some support for an association of vitamin ...

Fatty food cravings genetically programmed

July 18, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- In a new study published in Neuropsychopharmacology, Dr. Alasdair MacKenzie has found a genetic switch that regulates thirst and appetite and is believed to be the reason many people from Western countries ...

Recommended for you

Thinking about germs makes people concerned about how they look

December 18, 2017
Simply thinking about potential infection seems to increase people's concerns about their own physical appearance, especially if they are chronic germ worriers, according to new research in Psychological Science. The findings ...

How much people earn is associated with how they experience happiness

December 18, 2017
People who earn more money tend to experience more positive emotions focused on themselves, while people who earn less take greater pleasure in their relationships and ability to connect with others, according to research ...

Could cognitive interventions be useful in treating depression?

December 18, 2017
A new study by experimental psychologists from the University of Bristol has examined whether cognitive bias modification (CBM) for facial interpretation, a digital health intervention that changes our perception for emotional ...

Teens who help strangers have more confidence, study finds

December 18, 2017
Tis the season for helping at a soup kitchen, caroling at a care facility or shoveling a neighbor's driveway.

Suicidal thoughts rapidly reduced with ketamine, finds study

December 14, 2017
Ketamine was significantly more effective than a commonly used sedative in reducing suicidal thoughts in depressed patients, according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). They also found that ketamine's ...

Do bullies have more sex?

December 14, 2017
Adolescents who are willing to exploit others for personal gain are more likely to bully and have sex than those who score higher on a measure of honesty and humility. This is according to a study in Springer's journal Evolutionary ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.