A continuum of genetic liability for minor and major depression.

Translational psychiatry

PubMedID: 28509901

Corfield EC, Yang Y, Martin NG, Nyholt DR. A continuum of genetic liability for minor and major depression. Transl Psychiatry. 2017;7(5):e1131.
The recent success of a large genome-wide association (GWA) study-analysing 130 620 major depression cases and 347 620 controls-in identifying the first single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) loci robustly associated with major depression in Europeans confirms that immense sample sizes are required to identify risk loci for depression. Given the phenotypic similarity between major depressive disorder (MDD) and the less severe minor depressive disorder (MiDD), we hypothesised that broadening the case definition to include MiDD may be an efficient approach to increase sample sizes in GWA studies of depression. By analysing two large twin pair cohorts, we show that minor depression and major depression lie on a single genetic continuum, with major depression being more severe but not aetiologically distinct from minor depression. Furthermore, we estimate heritabilities of 37% for minor depression, 46% for major depression and 48% for minor or major depression in a cohort of older adults (aged 50-92). However, the heritability of minor or major depression was estimated at 40% in a cohort of younger adults (aged 23-38). Moreover, two robust major depression-risk SNPs nominally associated with major depression in our Australian GWA data set produced more significant evidence for association with minor or major depression. Hence, broadening the case phenotype in GWA studies to include subthreshold definitions, such as MiDD, should facilitate the identification of additional genetic risk loci for depression.