Gene variants from Neanderthals found in today’s people could increase their chance of certain illnesses, such as depression, heart attack and nicotine addiction, a recent study at the Vanderbilt University has revealed. The study, published in the journal Science, was based on the analysis of tens of thousands of modern people’s medical records and their genetic histories.
The researchers found that the genes inherited from Neanderthals were associated with psychiatric disorders and addictive behaviors. In 2010, scientists found that interbreeding of human ancestors from Africa with Neanderthals in Europe has resulted in around 1 to 4 percent of genes of today’s people being traceable to Neanderthals.
John Capra, an evolutionary geneticist and assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, said, “Our main finding is that Neanderthal DNA does influence clinical traits in modern humans. We discovered associations between Neanderthal DNA and a wide range of traits, including immunological, dermatological, neurological, psychiatric and reproductive diseases.”
The study found that modern human DNA consists of 135,000 gene variants that passed on from Neanderthals, who disappeared around 30,000 years ago. Those who carry Neanderthal genes have about 2 percent more chance to develop depression and 1.4 percent higher probability to have a heart attack compared to people who do not possess these genes.
Capra said this doesn’t mean our predecessors are responsible for making us feel depressed. “It’s that some bits of Neanderthal DNA increase your risk and other bits of Neanderthal DNA — your genome — decreases your risk.”
He added that the harmful effects of these genes today might have been useful for human health earlier in prehistory. “One bit of Neanderthal DNA increases blood clotting. That could have been useful when humans were living in dangerous environments where injuries were common. However, in modern environments this can increase risk for stroke, pulmonary embolism and miscarriage,” he added.
Depression and its treatment
Depression is a common mental disorder and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 19 million Americans suffer from it with women being nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from the problem. Experts say that the usual antidepressants do not seem to work for all of those who seek treatment, 30-40 percent patients do not fully recover with this medication.
Looking at the enormity of the problem, for the first time, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has advised that physicians screen all pregnant and postpartum women and elderly adults for signs of depression. General physicians have been asked to treat those afflicted by the disorder with antidepressants, refer them to psychotherapy or do both, according to a report in Los Angeles Times.
Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is the most common form of depression. According to a study conducted at the Stanford School of Medicine in 2014, around 10 percent of Americans will experience it sometime in their lives. It said that a person who has a relative suffering from depression has almost five times more chance of developing depression.
One needs to be alert to understand the symptoms of depression to take proper treatment at the right time. If you or your loved one is battling any form of mental illness, call 24/7 helpline at 866-954-0529 for further information. The Sovereign Mental Health Services offers the best treatment available for mental health, dual diagnosis and addiction treatment programs.