Depression has always been seen as a mood disorder to those who haven’t experienced it and sometimes, even those who have don’t understand the science behind the way depression affects your brain. New research has come to light showing that depression can change your DNA and change the way in which your cells generate energy.
The Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in the United Kingdom carried out a study on 11,500 women to determine how genes may contribute to depression. During their study, they actually found that depression causes a metabolic change in cells. A large majority of the women who were tested had a history of stress-related depression but, in addition, a control group of healthy women were also included for comparison.
Another discovery was that women who had stress-related depression most often caused by adversity during Childhood (such as sexual abuse) had more mitochondrial DNA than their peers. Although some scientists believe this finding may be a coincidence, the results showed a clear correlation between stress-related depression and mitochondrial DNA, which is the part that creates the energy needed in order for the cells to live. When the body is under stress, it must overcompensate by creating more mitochondria in order to maintain energy levels.
To confirm the results as more than a coincidence, the test was also carried out on mice that had been placed under stress for 4 full weeks to determine the molecular changes. As expected, the mice showed the same increase in mitochondrial DNA. Furthermore, the mice were also found to have a decrease in length in their telomeres (the cap at the end of DNA strands which stops degradation and the loss of genetic information).
This was also found to be true when looking back over the results of the women’s study. The erosion of telomeres shows that stress can significantly reduce life expectancy as the telomere gets shorter every time the cell attempts to make a copy of itself until eventually, the cells can no longer divide. However, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the study on mice is that the scientists found that the process is actually reversible and that once the mice recovered from the stress they were previously under, their cells returned to health.
This study has opened many potential doors for future research and treatment of depression and the findings that the DNA changes are reversible is a fascinating discovery that may lead to successful molecular treatment in the future.