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Science Specialist Ed Yeates reportingWhat historians have talked about for almost 400 years has now been confirmed by researchers. They've found a gene that predisposes families to depression, which is the most common mental illness and the leading cause of disability worldwide.

The gene is dominant - which means if someone in a family inherits it - they're biologically vulnerable to depression.

Researchers at Myriad Genetics in Salt Lake have dubbed the gene DEP-1. It showed up as a dominant influence in some 400 Utah families who participated in the study.

Dr. Dan Christensen M.D., Ph.D., says three of the largest families - studied in collaboration with Intermountain Health Care - had a total of 59 cases of depression.

Researchers believe that if a person has this gene - perhaps in combination with others - it might take only a single emotional trigger to set the illness in motion.

"The same kind of stress that would run off one person's back, someone with this susceptibility gene, would have it begin the process of throwing them into a major depression," Christensen says.

It's expected the discovery will give pharmaceutical companies new targets to look for as they develop new drugs. In fact, the pathway used by this gene is apparently independent of those pathways currently used to treat the illness.

Abbott Labs has already invested $1 million to begin exploring possible new formulations.

How many variations of depression may be influenced by this gene and others?

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