Call it personalized medicine for depression — but the prescription in this case is exercise, which University of Florida researchers have found helps people with certain genetic traits.
A UF study has found that specific genetic markers that put people at risk for depression also predict who might benefit from exercise, according to a study published recently in The Journal of Frailty & Aging. The researchers found that men who were carriers of two specific genes had the most significant response to exercise. The results suggest physical activity as part of a treatment plan — exercise as moderate as walking — could help the carriers of these genes.
[Photo: Dr. Vonetta Dotson]
“I want to better understand who could benefit most from physical activity. I would like to take the same approach to exercise that we take to medication, which is to have a personalized medicine approach,” said Dr. Vonetta Dotson, the study’s first author and an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Health Professions department of clinical and health psychology. “If we show through systematic research that exercise has a good chance of helping a patient because of their particular characteristics, I think that might help with patients’ motivation to exercise.”
The results came from a small pilot study, so more research needs to be done before this work can be translated into clinical practice. But in the future, it is possible that blood or saliva could be tested to determine if a person could benefit from physical activity to lower depressive symptoms.
The study used data gathered in the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders, or LIFE, pilot study. During the LIFE pilot study, 396 sedentary older adults were separated into two groups: those who received health education classes and those who were given moderate physical activity classes for 12 months.
A subsequent paper published from the LIFE pilot study found that exercise did not significantly affect depression symptoms across the whole group, but that changed when the research team tunneled down into the data.
“When we looked at subgroups, we ended up finding significant response to exercise in men who were carriers of a specific gene.” Dr. Dotson said.