HUNDREDS of genes have been newly linked to depression in an international study led by Scottish scientists, shedding light on its origins and highlighting at-risk personality types.

The largest study of its type involved more than two million people and could help develop treatments for depression, which affects a fifth of people in the UK and is the leading worldwide cause of disability.

Scientists led by the University of Edinburgh studied information from three large datasets of anonymised health and DNA records and pinpointed 269 genes that were linked to depression.

They used an innovative statistical method to identify sections of DNA that were common in people with depression and in those who adopted lifestyle behaviours such as smoking. Their findings suggest that depression could be a driving factor leading some people to smoke, but more research is needed to explain why, the team says.

Results also show that neuroticism – a tendency to be worried or fearful – could lead people to become depressed, which could shed light on personality factors that put people at risk.

The approach – known as Mendelian randomisation – allows scientists to look at how a condition impacts on behaviour, while ruling out other influences such as age or income. Experts say the study reflects the importance of data science in understanding mental health and the leading role that Scotland plays in this field.

Known as the Genetic Links to Anxiety and Depression (GLAD) Study – the research aims to better understand depression and anxiety in order to improve the lives of people with mental health issues. Now the team is inviting people with depression or anxiety in Scotland to take part in a further study, to understand more about the role of DNA in the common mental health conditions.

It hopes to collect saliva samples and questionnaires from 40,000 people across the UK. The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, was funded by Wellcome and the Medical Research Council.

Professor Andrew McIntosh, of Edinburgh University’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, who led the research, said: “We hope that by launching the GLAD study, we will be able to find out more about why some people are more at risk than others of mental health conditions, and how we might help people living with depression and anxiety more effectively in future.”

Meanwhile, scientists from the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow are to spearhead a £5 million European research project that could revolutionise treatment for people with bowel cancer, the second most common cause of cancer death.