Researchers at the University of Manchester are testing our genetic disposition to depression with a unique internet test.
Theteam, based at the Neuroscience and Psychiatry Unit (NPU), in theFaculty of Medical and Human Sciences, has set up a website (http://www.newmood.co.uk )where would-be volunteers can see how prone they may be to depressionby identifying the emotions on people's faces and also by taking agambling test.
The team aims to recruit more than 1000 UKvolunteers for further tests as part of the five-year, EU-fundedproject called NewMood - New Molecules in Mood Disorders.
Theyhave already discovered how anti-depressants such as Prozac can affecthow the brain reacts to fearful faces and which parts of the brainreact to fear.
Professor Bill Deakin explains: "Anxiety is acontagious emotion. When you see other people who are anxious, as aprimate you feel anxious as well. Our brains are wired to see anxiety -it makes sure we are safe. It is a fascinating test and, during furthertesting, we will be able to see which parts of the brain light up, orwork harder, when you see a fearful face. Depressed people are morelikely to see sadness or fear in a neutral face.
"The gamblingtest, where volunteers choose from pairs of spinners to 'win' money,will show us which parts of the brain light up when you are working fora reward. Depressed people are less affected by reward and more likelyto give up easily as the test goes on."
Volunteers for thisresearch study will be asked to fill in a confidential questionnaireand provide a mouth swab for genetic analysis; the team will comparethe DNA with the questionnaire group data.
In the other EUNewMood centres, rats and mice are also being tested for theirdisposition to depression using similar reward and anxiety measures.They are being offered sweet-tasting drinks -depressed animals show nopreference, much as humans lose pleasure in eating and often loseweight when they are depressed, and being given the opportunity toexplore a new location - depressed animals are more wary and takelonger to emerge from dark corners, much as depressed humans avoidsocial situations.
"All humans have the same genes and they arevery similar to those in all mammals - we turn out differently fromeach other because we inherit different versions of the same geneswhich can vary in their activity," Professor Deakin says.
"We cansee what genetic traits towards depression these animals have, thencompare them with the same genes in the human DNA. Depression is acommon trait like height or body build and, just like those, we suspectthere are lots of genes involved. By measuring the important possiblefactors that can lead to a tendency to depression in a large number ofindividual people, we hope to find which ones act together to causedepression. Ultimately, this will help us to develop new ways ofpreventing and treating this illness."
Depression is commonillness affecting 10-20% of the population at some time in their life;it is twice as common in women as in men. Treatment can be veryeffective, but may not help everyone. The causes of depression are amixture of genetic tendency, personality factors, difficultcircumstances and life experiences. A big challenge is trying tounderstand how these work together to lead to depression.
ProfessorDeakin adds: "We have already made two discoveries with our work so far- we have found that anti-depressants such as Prozac affect how thebrain reacts to fearful faces and also which parts of the brain reactdirectly to antidepressants."
The University of Manchester isleading 13 institutions in ten countries in the NewMood project. Fourinstitutions are testing humans and each need 1000 volunteers. Thosewho take part in this study could win £100 in a prize draw.
For more information or to take part in the project, visit the website at: www.newmood.co.uk
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