NYT article on depression genetics

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A family member just sent me this New York Times article on the recent failure to replicate a serotonin gene associated with depression in a meta-analysis by Risch and Merikangas. It gives a pretty good overview, but I think the article might be misleading in two ways:

First, beginning with the title “Report on Gene for Depression Is Now Faulted” will confuse people into thinking that the genetics behind depression will be simple, when in fact the reigning theory is that large numbers of genetic (and environmental) variants influence such complex mental traits.

Second, the critics of depression genetics make misleading points:

By contrast, she said, a major stressful event, like divorce, in itself raised the risk of depression by 40 percent.

Stressful life events are themselves quite heritable.


  1. I thought that article was actually pretty good. Why do you think it implies genes don’t play a role in depression? what’s really ridiculous is the quote from Caspi:Others said the new analysis was unjustifiably dismissive. ?What is needed is not less research into gene-environment interaction,? Avshalom Caspi, a neuroscientist at Duke University and lead author of the original paper, wrote in an e-mail message, ?but more research of better quality.?you get the impression he’s worried more about funding to studies like his being cut rather than the fact that everything he’s published is probably wrong.

  2. wrt to the title, i’m guessing “Report on gene that plays modest role in depression risk via gene-environment interaction is now faulted” just didn’t fit in the space :)

  3. p-ter, 
    Looking at the article again I see that my second point isn’t valid because they say: “The new report, by several of the most prominent researchers in the field, does not imply that interactions between genes and life experience are trivial; they are almost certainly fundamental, experts agree.”  
    I’m going to remove the second point from my post and update it to be less critical over all. 
    As for the title, a better one would be “Report on Depression Gene is Now Faulted”.. When the media talks about “Genes for X” it confuses people.

  4. As for Caspi, yeah he’s worried about support for his research, but isn’t that good? Shouldn’t we want higher quality gXe work?