Identifying the gene-brain mechanisms that contribute to depression


Depression is more than just tearfulness or feelings of sadness. It refers to a range of mood and other symptoms that are intense, long-lasting and distressing to the person. These symptoms will likely interfere with a person’s day-to-day life and relationships.

Symptoms include:

  • not wanting to go out or take part in activities that were previously enjoyable
  • withdrawing from social contact with friends and/or family
  • difficulties in concentrating or sleeping
  • feeling overwhelmed, guilty or frustrated
  • experiencing negative thoughts
  • feeling sick, tired or run down all of the time.

The causes of depression can vary from person to person. For some, stressful life events such as the loss of a relationship or job, long-term unemployment, physical health issues, family problems, or the death of a loved one might trigger depression. For others, there is no obvious cause.


Genes, environment and depression

In a collaborative study with Professors Kay Wilhelm and Phil Mitchell from the UNSW School of Psychiatry, Professor Peter Schofield and his team examined the genetic variation in the transporter protein that is involved in the reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin. There is an association between low serotonin transporter levels, stress and depression. The group has further shown that there is an association between the serotonin transporter genotypes and the way an individual copes with stress. This has led to further clinical studies correlating how individuals can use different methods to handle stress. Their research has significant implications for reducing the likelihood of developing depression and a planned future study will be to evaluate whether specific training in stress management, matched to an individual’s genotype, may lead to a reduction in the incidence of depression.

Falls, ageing and dementia in Indigenous Australians

We aim to identify determinants for the high prevalence of dementia in Indigenous Australians, and will now extend these findings by exploring determinants for the high prevalence of falls.

Koori Growing Old Well Study

The primary aim of a proposed longitudinal study is to find the reasons for the high dementia rates (three times non-Indigenous rates) in urban/regional Aboriginal people.

NeuroSleep: A NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence

This project aims to understand the bidirectional relationship between sleep and the brain to test and develop new approaches to treatment for sleep disruption across a range of medical disorders.  

Genetics of normal brain function and links to anxiety and depression symptoms

Using various cognitive, psychological and neuroimaging measures, they have investigated the role of several genes known to be involved in brain disorders.

The TWIN-E study in emotion and cognition

The overall goal of this project is to establish the role of genetics versus environment for each measure of emotion and cognition, as well as resting state function, using twin modelling.

What else is happening in Depression research at NeuRA?