23andMe Data Is Helping Find The Genes Responsible For Depression

Proving a genetic basis for depression also helps relieve the stigma associated with the disease.

23andMe Data Is Helping Find The Genes Responsible For Depression
[Image: Flickr user Mark Warner]

Depression is often genetic, scientists have known, but now they also know exactly where in the genetics spiral it lurks.


The findings, published a few weeks ago, come from data provided by 23andMe, the gene-testing company, and have been found by aggregating the anonymized data of over 300,000 customers–the largest of its kind. Usually a genetic study will select participants, then interview them and genotype them. Instead this study, conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital and published in Nature Genetics, accessed 23andMe’s researchers platform, using the results for a large-scale analysis.

The most useful part of the research might be that it helps prove that depression is a disease and not just a way for malingerers to avoid work and social responsibilities.

[Photo: University of Michigan Flickr]

The sample group was made up of 75,000 people who had self-reported being diagnosed with depression, and 230,000 who said they had no history of depression. This data was then combined with data from smaller, more targeted studies, and also with yet more 23andMe data (another 150,000+ participants).

The study identified 15 genetic loci which the researchers say are “significantly associated with a diagnosis of depression,” says the Mass General press release.

“Finding genes associated with depression should help make clear that this is a brain disease, which we hope will decrease the stigma still associated with these kinds of illnesses,” said co-author and Harvard University professor Roy Perlis in an news relesae.

The researchers hope to update the status quo on how depression is treated by doctors. “The neurotransmitter-based models we are currently using to treat depression are more than 40 years old, and we really need new treatment targets,” says Perlis. Perlis hopes that starting over with this new, targeted genetic knowledge may suggest “novel treatment strategies,” leading to new ways to target depression.


23andMe has said there is huge demand for its genetic data sets from researchers, which the company profits from. It’s likely we’ll see more of these kinds of studies in the future.

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About the author

Previously found writing at, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.