Depression linked to “junk DNA” in the serotonin receptor gene

November 21, 2018

Dr. Paul AlbertThe human genome is thought to be 75 to 90 percent meaningless “junk DNA”, but researchers are increasingly finding that some of this junk may actually do something important. For example, new research led by Dr. Paul Albert and Dr. Eitan Friedman shows that a supposed junk region at the end of the serotonin receptor gene may play a role in major depression. Their team looked at the messenger (mRNA) made from the gene and found that the junk region is more likely to be present in people with depression. In people without depression, the junk is usually cut out through a process called alternative splicing. It turns out that the junk region attracts a complex that destabilizes the message, resulting in lower levels of the serotonin receptor in the cortex, a depression-related part of the brain. This research highlights splicing as a new way to regulate the well-known link between serotonin and depression, and could lead to new treatments. See the Journal of Neuroscience for details. Authors: Le François B, Zhang L, Mahajan GJ, Stockmeier CA, Friedman E, Albert PR

“This research opens up a whole new avenue for depression research, which could lead to new treatments,” said Dr. Paul Albert, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa.

This study is a collaboration between researchers at The Ottawa Hospital, the University of Ottawa, the University of New York and the University of Mississippi.

Funders: All research at The Ottawa Hospital is supported by generous donations to The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. This study was also supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the University of Mississippi’s Postmortem Brain Core.

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