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Shared Gene Module Identifies Crucial Link in Depression-Cardiovascular Disease Connection

Cardiovascular Disease

Depression and cardiovascular disease (CVD) are significant public health concerns worldwide. Approximately 280 million people globally suffer from depression, while 620 million people are affected by CVD. Since the 1990s, researchers have recognized a link between these two conditions. For instance, individuals with depression are at a higher risk of developing CVD, while early and effective treatment for depression can reduce the subsequent risk of CVD by half. Conversely, people with CVD tend to experience depression more frequently. As a result, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends monitoring teenagers with depression for potential CVD.

While the apparent relatedness between depression and CVD has been established, the underlying cause remained elusive. Lifestyle factors common among patients with depression, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, lack of exercise, and poor diet, which increase the risk of CVD, may contribute to this association. However, it is also possible that both diseases share deeper developmental pathways.

In a groundbreaking study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, scientists have demonstrated that depression and CVD indeed share part of their developmental programs, having at least one functional ‘gene module’ in common. This finding provides new markers for depression and CVD and could ultimately lead to the development of drugs targeting both diseases.

“We looked at gene expression profiles in the blood of people with depression and CVD and found 256 genes in a single gene module whose expression at levels higher or lower than average puts people at greater risk of both diseases,” said first author Dr. Binisha H. Mishra, a postdoctoral researcher at Tampere University in Finland.

The authors define a gene module as a group of genes with similar expression patterns across different conditions and, hence, likely to be functionally related.

The study analyzed gene expression data in the blood of 899 women and men between 34 and 49 years old, who were participants in the Young Finns study, one of the largest studies to date on cardiovascular risk factors from childhood to adulthood. The Young Finns study began in 1980 with a cohort of almost 4,000 children and adolescents, aged 3 to 18 years, randomly selected from five cities in Finland. The health of these participants has been monitored ever since.

Finland has the highest estimated incidence of mental disorders in the European Union and ranks ninth globally for the prevalence of depression. Conversely, the country has a relatively low prevalence of CVD, ranking in the bottom 20% worldwide for this class of diseases.

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