Genetic knowledge - good or bad?

Suppose your doctor could tell you whether you were at increased risk for stress-induced depression based on a simple blood test. Would you want to know?

It is now possible to do this and a recent study looked at whether patients wanted to know and what effect it had when those who did want to know were given that information.

I have written before about the serotonin transporter gene and how the short and long variants of this gene affect depression. Those with two short alleles (s/s), one from each parent, have a much greater risk of depression than those with one short version and one long version (s/l) or those with two long versions (l/l).

When a sample of people who had been genotyped in another study was asked if they would like to know their genetic status, 66% said they would. Eighteen percent of this sample had the s/s combination, 48% had the s/l and the remaining 34% had the l/l associated with the lowest risk of stress-induced depression.

At both the two-week and three-month follow-up, 92 percent of the subjects reported feeling pleased that they had received their result, especially those who had thought that they were in the vulnerable group and had learned that they were not. However, the researchers also reported that at the two-week and three-month follow-up, individuals in the s/s group demonstrated significantly higher distress levels after getting their result than individuals in the s/l and l/l groups did.

Although it is clearly not good news to find out you are at increased susceptibility, it does provide an opportunity to take steps to prevent future episodes of depression by reducing stress and learning more effective ways to cope with it when it occurs. Especially those who have already experienced depression, might pay closer attention to the advice they are given in the light of this information.

It remains for future studies to follow-up this sample to see if it made any difference to those who were told versus those who were not.

There are some excellent Web sites that can help individuals acquire effective methods for dealing with stress. Here are three: the MoodGym Training Program at , Reach Out Central at , and Authentic Happiness at .

Before you rush off to your doctor to ask for this genetic test, I should say that it is not yet in widespread clinical use. It is being used in research only at this time.

 

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