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Genome-wide association study of depression phenotypes in UK Biobank (n = 322,580) identifies the enrichment of variants in excitatory synaptic pathways

By David M. Howard, Mark J. Adams, Masoud Shirali, Toni-Kim Clarke, Riccardo E. Marioni, Gail Davies, Jonathan R. I. Coleman, Clara Alloza, Xueyi Shen, Miruna C. Barbu, Eleanor M. Wigmore, Jude Gibson, Saskia P. Hagenaars, Cathryn M Lewis, Daniel J. Smith, Patrick F Sullivan, Chris S. Haley, Gerome Breen, Ian J. Deary, Andrew M. McIntosh

Posted 27 Jul 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/168732 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-03819-3)

Depression is a polygenic trait that causes extensive periods of disability and increases the risk of suicide, a leading cause of death in young people. Previous genetic studies have identified a number of common risk variants which have increased in number in line with increasing sample sizes. We conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) in the largest single population-based cohort to date, UK Biobank. This allowed us to estimate the effects of ≈ 8 million genetic variants in 320,000 people for three depression phenotypes: broad depression, probable major depressive disorder (MDD), and International Classification of Diseases (ICD, version 9 or 10)-coded MDD. Each phenotype was found to be significantly genetically correlated with the results from a previous independent study of clinically defined MDD. We identified 14 independent loci that were significantly associated (P < 5 × 10-8) with broad depression, two independent variants for probable MDD, and one independent variant for ICD-coded MDD. Gene-based analysis of our GWAS results with MAGMA revealed 46 regions significantly associated (P < 2.77 × 10-6) with broad depression, two significant regions for probable MDD and one significant region for ICD-coded MDD. Gene region-based analysis of our GWAS results with MAGMA revealed 59 regions significantly associated (P < 6.02 × 10-6) with broad depression, of which 27 were also detected by gene-based analysis. Variants for broad depression were enriched in pathways for excitatory neurotransmission, mechanosensory behavior, postsynapse, neuron spine and dendrite. This study provides a number of novel genetic risk variants that can be leveraged to elucidate the mechanisms of MDD and low mood.

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