Researchers Discover How Depression and Aging Link to Increased Disease Risk
Psychological stress and stress-related psychiatric disorders are associated with increased risk for age-related diseases, but the molecular mechanisms underlying this relationship are unknown. An international group of researchers from Germany and the U.S. has discovered a biochemical change in a specific gene that causes this risk, a finding that may lead to improved treatments for diseases of aging.
Charles Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., Leonard M. Miller Professor and Chairman of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, is a co-author of the study which was presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology congress in Berlin.
The researchers found that both aging and depression are associated with a biochemical change in a gene on chromosome 6, the FKBP5 gene. Genes can be regulated by the addition or removal of methyl (CH3) groups to an area of the gene. The researchers found that aging can decrease this methylation process, causing the FKBP5 gene to be overexpressed. They also found that when someone is depressed, this demethylation process is accelerated even further.
In a second finding they discovered that this increased FKBP5 expression is associated with increases in biochemical markers of inflammation and cardiovascular risk. Understanding these mechanisms may contribute to the development of targeted preventive strategies and new or improved treatments for age-related diseases.
Lead researcher Anthony Zannas, M.D., M.Sc., adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, said, “We found that both aging and depression seem to lead to changes in how DNA is processed, and that this can control the expression of genes that regulate how we respond to stress. These changes are associated with increased inflammation, and we believe that this may lead to the increased risk for several aging-related diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and neuropsychiatric disorders, that has been observed in chronically stressed and depressed individuals.”
Zannas said another study with larger samples is needed, and from those findings there may be an opportunity to develop tests for age-related diseases and new ways to prevent the harmful effects of stress.
The European College of Neuropsychopharmacology is an independent scientific association dedicated to the science and treatment of disorders of the brain and is the largest non-institutional supporter of applied and translational neuroscience research and education in Europe.