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Twin Study of Early-Onset Major Depression Finds DNA Methylation Enrichment for Neurodevelopmental Genes

By Roxann Roberson-Nay, Aaron R Wolen, Dana M. Lapato, Eva E Lancaster, Bradley T. Webb, Bradley Verhulst, John M. Hettema, Timothy P York

Posted 20 Sep 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/422345

Major depression (MD) is a debilitating mental health condition with peak prevalence occurring early in life. Genome-wide examination of DNA methylation (DNAm) offers an attractive complement to studies of allelic risk given it can reflect the combined influence of genes and environment. The current study used a co-twin control design to identify differentially and variably methylated regions of the genome that distinguish monozygotic (MZ) twins with and without a lifetime history of early-onset MD. The sample included 150 Caucasian monozygotic twins (73% female; Mage=17.52 SD=1.28) assessed during a developmental stage characterized by relatively distinct neurophysiological changes. All twins were generally healthy and currently free of medications with psychotropic effects. DNAm was measured in peripheral blood cells using the Infinium Human BeadChip 450K Array. MD associations were detected at 760 differentially and variably methylated probes/regions that mapped to 428 genes. Gene enrichment analyses implicated genes related to neuron structures and neurodevelopmental processes including cell-cell adhesion genes (e.g., CDHs, PCDHAs, PCDHA1C/2C). Genes previously implicated in mood and psychiatric disorders as well as chronic stress (e.g., HDAC4, NRG1) also were identified. Results indicated an association between early-onset MD and many genes and genomic regions involved in neural circuitry formation, projection, functioning, and plasticity. DNAm regions associated with MD where found to overlap genetic loci observed in the latest Psychiatric Genomics Consortium meta-analysis of depression. Understanding the time course of epigenetic influences during emerging adulthood may clarify developmental phases where genes modulate individual differences in MD risk.

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