Researchers identify the genetic variants associated with subjective well-being, depression and neuroticism

Professor Terho Lehtimäki

“This was the first research in the world that undertook a broad analysis of the genetic variants associated with subjective well-being and compared them to those that occur in depression and neuroticism,” says Terho Lehtimäki, Professor of Clinical Chemistry at the University of Tampere.

An international research consortium has discovered associations between genetic variants and feelings of subjective well-being, depression and neuroticism. The research also shows that depression and neuroticism share some of the same genetic variants.

The researchers identified three genetic variants associated with subjective well-being and two variants that relate to depression. Nine genetic variants and two larger inversion polymorphisms were identified as being associated with neuroticism.

“This was the first research in the world that undertook a broad analysis of the genetic variants associated with subjective well-being and compared them to those that occur in depression and neuroticism,” says Terho Lehtimäki, Professor of Clinical Chemistry at the University of Tampere, whose research group participated as part of the consortium.

“The genetic variants associated with subjective well-being, depression and neuroticism enriched, among others, the biological pathways controlling the expression of the genes in the adrenal gland and the brain. The adrenal gland produces the epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol hormones, which are known to regulate mood and stress,” Lehtimäki explains.

“The research provides new insight on the biological similarities and mechanisms of the states of mind we investigated.”

The data used in the analysis also included data from the Finnish Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study (LASERI).

The researchers analysed the genome of more than 600,000 people and about 2.5 million genetic variants called single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs. An SNP is the genetic variation of one DNA base pair and it is the smallest and most common type of genetic variant. The inversion polymorphism of the gene, in which a certain part of the genome (chromosome) turns 180 degrees, is a rarer variant that has a larger effect.

Previous studies have shown that the genetic differences between individuals may lead to differences in how they experience subjective well-being, depression and neuroticism. It has also already been concluded that some of the same genetic variants correlate with the occurrence of these traits.

According to the researchers, the effect of each SNP is about 0.01%. Experiencing subjective well being, depression or neuroticism may thus be the result of the cumulative effect of thousands or millions of different genetic variants.

The research also established that a larger research dataset enables the identification of more genetic variants.

The study’s results were recently published in the online edition of Nature Genetics.

Genetic variants associated with subjective well-being, depressive symptoms and neuroticism identified through genome-wide analyses

For more information, please contact:
Terho Lehtimäki, Professor of Clinical Chemistry, tel. +358 (0)50 433 6285,