Research in depression: endocrinology, epigenetics and neuroiMaging: the REDEEM study

Depression is the most common psychiatric disorder in the world, accounting for approximately 90% of deaths by suicide. Rates of depression are rising alarmingly in the OECD countries. Although depression is considered to be a single clinical disorder, it has many underlying causes ranging from childhood abuse through to purely genetic causes. We do not, however, understand the different clinical features or the different neurobiological changes that may correspond to the different pathways to depression. Neither do we have treatments for the different types of depression.
The genetic versus environment debate has now evolved to understanding how the environment alters our gene function: a process called epigenetics. It is known that prolonged stress early in life, even pre-birth, can change the epigenetic control of our stress systems. In this way childhood maltreatment can change our stress responses, making an individual more prone to becoming stressed, leading to clinical depression in adulthood. Our research group are unravelling the complex stress/immune/brain interactions involved in the pathway from childhood maltreatment to adult depression. Each pathway to depression has a corresponding biology in epigenetic and stress/immune systems changes, and in the emotional circuitry in the brain.
In our project we wish to examine these systems in a group of young people presenting for the first time with a depressive episode in relation to childhood maltreatment and other risk factors. We will have a young healthy comparator group and will follow both groups up over an 18-month period to see how recovering from depression, or not, may change these systems. This project is important because early intervention with treatments directed at the specific disease processes causing depression are needed. Otherwise, stress-sensitive systems in the body may become permanently damaged, leading ultimately to atrophy of the emotional and memory centres in the brain.

Award Date
23 October 2015
Award Value
Principal Investigator
Professor Veronica O'Keane
Host Institution
Trinity College Dublin
Health Research Awards