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Depression Genetics as a Window Into Physical and Mental Health

  • Karmel W. Choi
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Karmel W. Choi, Ph.D.
    Affiliations
    Center for Precision Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, and the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit, Center for Genomic Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and the Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    Search for articles by this author
      Preventing depression and its concomitant health issues is critical to promote healthy aging and extend the lifespan. It is well known that depression and poor health are intertwined (
      • Firth J.
      • Siddiqi N.
      • Koyanagi A.
      • Siskind D.
      • Rosenbaum S.
      • Galletly C.
      • et al.
      The Lancet Psychiatry Commission: A blueprint for protecting physical health in people with mental illness.
      ), but why they are intertwined remains an area of active inquiry. The idea that depression may share underlying biology—including common genetic mechanisms—with other health conditions is appealing, as knowledge of such mechanisms could inform treatments to ameliorate both. To that end, year upon year we are learning more about the complex genetic architecture of major depression (
      • Kendall K.M.
      • Van Assche E.
      • Andlauer T.F.M.
      • Choi K.W.
      • Luykx J.J.
      • Schulte E.C.
      • Lu Y.
      The genetic basis of major depression.
      ), which provides us in theory with increasingly powerful genome-wide tools to study the relationship between depression and health. Thus far, such tools have offered a relatively focused view of depression’s shared genetic risk with specific comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease. The genetics underlying depression is expected to be highly pleiotropic (i.e., associated with many traits) and could thus provide a window into a much broader spectrum of mental and physical illnesses—though this remains to be fully characterized.
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