GenGeoRisk: Genetic and geographical determinants of depression

Maternal depression (MD) is the leading cause of perinatal mortality and it accounts for 20% of all postpartum deaths.

About the project

Although depression is projected to be the major contributor to disease burden worldwide by 2030, we lack fundamental knowledge on its aetiology. To address this issue, the EU-funded GenGeoRisk project will use data from MoBa, the world’s largest pregnancy cohort undertaken in the Norwegian population, to identify genetic variants specific to MD. The aim is to determine one’s general predisposition to psychopathologies and identify geographical parameters that may affect MD risk. Considering the high prevalence of depression and its pervasive and devastating impact, the project's results will help improve disease management.


We can all name a family member, close friend, colleague or acquaintance who has suffered from depression. It is a common, pervasive and devastating illness characterised by persistent episodes of low mood. Depression affects individuals across all geographical locations and by the year 2030 it will be the largest contributor to disease burden worldwide. Depression that occurs in women during pregnancy and post-partum is referred to as maternal depression (MD). MD is the leading cause of perinatal mortality and it accounts for ∼20% of all postpartum deaths.

Despite this profound individual and societal burden, the aetiology of depression remains poorly understood in part, due to three research barriers: 1) lack of success in identifying genetic variants specific to MD 2) inadequate account of environmental risk factors in genetic research and 3) heterogeneity.

GenGeoRisk will address each of these research barriers in the following ways: 1) I will use aggregates of genetic variants (polygenic scores) derived from other successful studies of psychiatric traits to calculate genetic p—a general dimension, which sits at the top of a hierarchical structure of psychopathological dimensions and captures one’s general liability to psychopathology. Genetic p will be used to predict MD symptom risk and resilience in the world’s largest (N= 240 000) pregnancy cohort (MoBa; the Norwegian, mother, father and offspring cohort study) 2) I will use geographical location data from the entire Norwegian population (> 7 000 000) that has been recently linked to MoBa data to illuminate how MD symptoms and genetic p vary across neighbourhoods and diverse Norwegian municipalities 3) I will focus on MD, a less heterogeneous form of major depression, and use genetic p to discover MD subtypes. GenGeoRisk will be the first intergenerational, multi-environmental and DNA based investigation of MD to date.


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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 894675.

Published Oct. 28, 2021 6:08 PM - Last modified Jan. 7, 2022 8:58 AM


Principal investigator

Ziada Ayorech

Project type

MSCA-IF-2019 - Individual Fellowships

H2020-EU funding

EUR 214 158,72

Project duration

24 months

Start date

1 February 2021