Epigenetics Determinants of Major Depression: A Monozygotic Twin Study

This project was funded by NIMH (R01MH097018, 8/15/2013-7/31/2021, PI: Jinying Zhao). The objective of this study is to identify functional epigenetic determinants for major depressive symptoms (MDD). Our central hypothesis is that aberrant DNA methylation and resulting alterations in gene expression are associated with MDD. The rationale for the proposed research is that: once we know the epigenetic determinants for depression, we will be able to develop novel epigenetic markers and therapeutic targets for risk assessment, prevention and treatment of MDD and related psychiatric conditions. We proposed three specific aims: (1) Identify differentially methylated regions (DMRs) associated with MDD. This aim is to conduct an epigenome-wide DNA methylation analysis to identify epigenetic variations contributing to MDD in monocytes DNA from 100 monozygotic (MZ) discordant twin pairs from the University of Washington Twin Registry (UWTR), a large community-based twin registry in the U.S. (2) Replicate the top 50 ranked genes from Aim 1 in two independent samples, including 80 MZ discordant twin pairs recruited from the same registry and 36 postmortem brain tissue of well-characterized MDD patients and matched controls. (3) Determine the functional importance of the positive methylation findings in both blood and brain by profiling gene expression levels in each of the four brain regions (frontal cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, and cingulate cortex). Differential expressed genes related to MDD will be identified. Integrative analyses will be performed to elucidate the connections between DNA methylation patterns and gene expression of cognate genes in relation to MDD.