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Pitt Researchers To Identify Genes That Place Individuals At Risk For Developing Early-Onset Recurrent Major Depression

PITTSBURGH, January 27, 2000 — Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine hope to identify genes that place individuals at risk of developing early-onset recurrent major depression. If they are successful, the information they learn could be used to develop better treatments for a disorder that affects seven percent of all American adults. Most, if not all, cases of early-onset recurrent depression run in families.

"Depression influences how a person feels, thinks and interacts with family, friends and coworkers," said George S. Zubenko, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry. "It robs a person of the normal pleasures of life. Early-onset recurrent depression is a severe form of depression that also contributes to the development of other diseases and leads to premature death in many cases."

Episodes of depression can vary in the number and severity of symptoms and often recur throughout a person’s life. This is especially true for recurrent major depression that first occurs early in life.

Symptoms of major depression can include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, irritable or "empty" mood;
  • Feelings of hopelessness;
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or helplessness;
  • Loss of interest in pleasure or hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex;
  • Problems or changes in sleep;
  • Problems or changes in appetite resulting in either weight gain or loss;
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down";
  • Thoughts of death or suicide;
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions;

Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, stomach problems and chronic pain.

"It is of profound importance that we achieve a better understanding of how genes affect the development of recurrent depression," he said. "With that information we will be able to develop new and better treatments and begin to design strategies for prevention."

Anyone over the age of 18 and who has experienced two or more episodes of major depression at age 40 or younger may be eligible to participate in this research study. Participants will need to complete an interview and will be asked to donate a small amount of blood. There is no need to travel to the university to participate. Research nurses are available to perform interviews and obtain blood samples in the privacy of the participant’s home. Researchers can also conduct interviews over the phone and obtain blood samples with the help of a participant’s family physician. Participants will be paid for their effort. Treatment is not provided as part of this study and is not required for participation. All information will be confidential.

For more information about the Genetics of Recurrent Depression Study, please call 412-246-6530 or toll-free at 1-877-485-7568.

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