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Obesity gene helps protect against depression, scientists find

Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., have found an unexpected link between obesity and depression. An obesity gene called FTO (Fat Mass and Obesity Associated Gene) actually helps protect people against depression.

“The obesity predisposing mutation is not associated with an increased risk of depression, but protects from it. We were really surprised”, says David Meyre, an associate professor in clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont. and a Canada Research Chair in genetic epidemiology.

“We can say that this gene (FTO) is not only an obesity gene, but a happiness gene, as well”, says Meyre.
Scientists had been looking for genes associated with depression for 15 years, without success. Meyre and his colleagues analyzed FTO gene mutations in 6,591 people with depression in standard screening and more than 21,000 others who weren’t diagnosed with depression. The protective effect showed up in four different studies of people of various ethnicities around the world.

Meyre says that this discovery “will not change clinical care tomorrow, because its effect is very modest”. There is an 8 per cent reduction in depression risk for those with one copy and a 16 per cent reduction for those who inherit a copy from each parent.

The FTO gene is also suspected to be associated with Type 2 diabetes, with some cancers or with cardio-vascular diseases.

“We think that this gene may have an important role in many different diseases. We will definitely try to understand better why this gene has some impact on depression disorders”, he says.

Meyre and his colleagues are also curious to find out more about the 59 other known genes associated with obesity.


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