The hormone oestrogen could play an important
role in late-life depression, according to new research published
in the August
issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Oestrogen is best known as one of the
significant hormones in reproduction. It is also believed to have a
part to play in mood and mental health, because of the way that it
acts on cells in the brain. Researchers in France conducted a
scientific study to investigate whether certain genetic variations,
or ‘polymorphisms’, of oestrogen receptors were associated with
severe depression in later life.
The team assessed 6,017 men and women over the
age of 65, who were living in three French cities: Bordeaux, Dijon
and Montpelier. Each person was interviewed to assess if they had a
diagnosis of depression. Overall, 12.2% of women and 4.3% of men
were diagnosed with current severe depression.
The team also took a blood sample from each
person, which was analysed to determine their oestrogen receptor
polymorphism type. Polymorphism type was ascertained using
polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique which reveals details
about DNA structure.
The study found that women with certain
genetic variants of the oestrogen receptor, known as ER-a
polymorphisms, were significantly more likely to have late-life
depression. Some women with the ER-b rs1256049 polymorphism were
also at increased risk of depression – but only those who were not
currently using hormone replacement treatment.
The researchers found no strong associations
between oestrogen receptor polymorphisms and depression risk in
The reasons for the association between some
oestrogen receptor polymorphisms and depression are still unclear.
However, oestrogen receptors can affect hundreds of genes, which in
turn are involved in the production and breakdown of various
chemicals in the brain which play a role in depression.
Lead researcher Dr Joanne Ryan said: “We found
that polymorphisms of ER-a are associated with depression in older
women. In addition, there is some evidence that taking hormone
treatment can reduce the risk of depression in women with the ER-β
rs1256049 polymorphism. Although more research is needed, our
findings provide some preliminary evidence that hormone treatment
could be beneficial for some women who are genetically vulnerable
to severe late-life depression.”
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Ryan J, Scali J, Carrière I, Peres K, Rouaud O, Scarabin P-Y, Ritchie K and Ancelin M-L. Oestrogen receptor polymorphisms and late-life depression. British Journal of Psychiatry 2011; 199:126-131