Young people that live in economically disadvantaged homes are more likely to develop chronic depression later in life than other young people. Johnna Swartz, a Duke University postdoctoral researcher in psychology and neuroscience, is the first to establish a direct genetic link between poverty and depression.
Young people who grow up in a family with low socioeconomic status are more likely to have more small changes in a gene called SLC6A4. The change in the gene impacts the amygdala of the brain and produces an intensified reaction to threat. The study involved 132 participants from low income families that were followed from the age of 12 to the age of 18. A higher number of changes in the SLC6A4 gene correlated with more reports of depression.
The study does not claim that every person who lives in poverty will develop chronic depression. The study is the first to show a genetic link between poverty and depression. High stress levels associated with poverty and poor diets are the most probable causes for the genetic changes that lead to depression.
The research shows that increased activity in the areas of the brain where the SLC6A4 gene is most influential can predict the potential for a person developing depression. The study made extensive use of functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine changes in the brain structures that are most impacted by changes in the SLC6A4 gene. The study helps to explain why depression is inherited as well.