Big New Study Challenges a Genetic Link to Stress, Depression


From Psych Central: A new meta-analysis found no evidence for a previously reported connection between the serotonin gene, depression, and stress.

“For years, scientists have been trying to determine what effect a gene linked to the brain chemical serotonin may have on depression in people exposed to stress. But now, analyzing information from more than 40,000 people who have been studied for more than a decade, researchers led by a team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found no evidence that the gene alters the impact stress has on depression.”

Article →­


  1. I find this part troubling considering what we know about the placebo effect accounting for nearly all of the positive effect of SSRIs.

    “Such conclusions were widely accepted, mainly because antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) help relieve depression for a significant percentage of clinically depressed individuals.”

    It’s too bad the authors prop up this old trope because this paper would have significantly more impact if the knowledge of placebo effect were combined with this new finding. It could have blown a death knell to the chemical imbalance theory linking serotonin levels with depression.

    I’m sure the industry will find a way to spin this.

    Report comment

    • I too got to that sentence and thought WTF???!!!!

      The serotonin/chemical imbalance stuff has been long defunct, and yet here is an article that says the serotonin gene has no link to depression, also saying that SSRI’s work. Don’t they see the blatant contradiction here?

      Report comment

      • They might as well continue with this humbug, considering that the notion of depression being an independent entity unto itself is also humbug, as depression is but a syndrome that can have a number of physical origins (and possibly psychic ones).

        Report comment

  2. In addition to the above, notice that there is also the assumption, later in the article, that there still IS a genetic component to depression, even if not the particular (serotonin) gene they looked at. I can certainly see how there may be a genetic component but I have my doubts about whether it’s as clear as suggested here. Does anyone have a read on that?

    Report comment

    • Exactly my thought. Why do they have such a need to find these spurious “links?” Even if they found a gene that “influenced” depression, so what? First off, these studies show probability correlations, so it’s quite possible that even with such a link, most depressed people still won’t have the gene in question. Second, what would you do if you found it was true? Splice in a new gene? Feel sorry for the person? Give them more Prozac? There is no real solution that would be rendered even if they find some small percentage of people with a gene that “makes them more vulnerable” to depression.

      Last but not least, if such a gene exists, is it not possible that it is also linked to other positive characteristics like empathy or thoughtfulness toward others? The idea that a gene influences one and only one trait is ridiculous when considering emotional variables.

      Instead of wasting time finding one gene that affects only a percentage of depressed people who are exposed to stress, why not spend our time and money trying to reduce the stresses that might trigger such theoretical vulnerabilities? Why not focus on something we actually have some control over, instead of spending billions trying to find some gene that we don’t really understand and couldn’t change if we wanted to?

      — Steve

      Report comment