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Study finds genes linked to happiness, depression and neuroticism

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How people think and feel about their lives depends on multiple factors, including genes. In a paper published in Nature Genetics, a multi-institutional team, including a researcher from Baylor College of Medicine, reports that they have found genetic variants associated with our feelings of well-being, depression and neuroticism.

This is one of the largest studies on the genes involved in human behavior. More than 190 researchers in 140 institutions in 17 countries analyzed genomic data from nearly 300,000 people.

"In this paper, we applied advanced statistical analyses and meta-analyzed, or combined, results across a large number of studies, which is the most powerful way to conduct this type of genetics research," said Dr. Alexis Frazier-Wood, assistant professor of pediatrics and nutrition at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor and Texas Children's Hospital. "I served as the analyst for one set of data included in the overall results. We report that we found three genetic variants associated with subjective well-being – how happy a person thinks or feels about his or her life. We also found two genes harboring variants associated with depressive symptoms and 11 genes where variation was associated with neuroticism."

The researchers advised caution when interpreting the results of the study. The genetic variants do not determine whether someone develops depressive symptoms, neuroticism or has a poor sense of wellbeing.

"Genetics is only one factor that influences these psychological traits. The environment is at least as important, and it interacts with the genetic effects," said Dr. Daniel Benjamin, associate professor at the Center for Economic and Social Research in the University of Southern California Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and corresponding author.

The information in this report allows researchers to look at possible ways to study these conditions. "We can start studying the functions of these genes to begin to understand why biologically some people are more predisposed to feel this way than others," said Frazier-Wood.

For the names and affiliations of the other contributors, and grant information for this research, go to Nature Genetics.

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