Despite the widespread use of antidepressants in the last decade, depression rates continue to steadily climb. In fact, recent research indicates that approximately one in four Americans will meet the diagnostic criteria for depression at some point in their lives. This makes depression the most pervasive mental illness in our society. A recent study from the University of Michigan Medical School shows that depression not only affects our cognition but also affects our biology on a cellular and genetic level!
This research hinges on circadian rhythms. Every cell in the human body runs on what amounts to a 24-hour clock fine-tuned to night-day and light-dark cycles, and the brain is responsible for regulating this. Through examining cadaver brains of depressed and non-depressed people, researchers are beginning to understand that depression likely causes the brain’s clock to malfunction. And depression affects us at more than just at the cellular level but at the genetic level as well. This study uncovered evidence of hundreds of genes that are very sensitive to circadian rhythms, which means that as depression alters our circadian rhythms, it can also be altering our genetics.
With this wealth of new information, scientists can now better understand the predictors of depression. More importantly, clinicians may be able to utilize genetic information to fine tune patient-specific treatments. All in all, this research could revolutionize treatment options for depression!