Researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have discovered a group of genes that, when not functioning properly, can lead to stress and depression.
Didier Trono, lead author of the study, found that a group of genes dubbed KRAB-ZFP allows organisms to absorb and manage stress. Without those genes, creatures have a hard time adapting to external events.
The findings were published on Thursday in the online journal "Neuron" and open new avenues for medical treatment.
"Nature gives us a large capacity, more or less, to soften stress," he said, adding that the genes are not very well studied. Together there are 400-500 genes in the family.
Trono carried out experiments on genetically modified mice that had suppressed functionality in the hippocampus area of the brain, a region responsible for some memory and emotions.
The modified mice seemed perfectly normal until they were subjected to stress, when they became incapable of performing simple cognitive tasks and grew disoriented. Those mice in an unmodified control group, however, adapted rapidly, suggesting they had "managed" their stress.
Drugs like cocaine can produce conditions similar to those created by the malfunctioning genes, he said.