Department of Educational Psychology



Bill C. White

Document Type


Date of this Version



Translational Psychiatry (2018) 8:180


© The Author(s) 2018

Open access

DOI: 10.1038/s41398-018-0234-3


Genomic variation underlying major depressive disorder (MDD) likely involves the interaction and regulation of multiple genes in a network. Data-driven co-expression network module inference has the potential to account for variation within regulatory networks, reduce the dimensionality of RNA-Seq data, and detect significant geneexpression modules associated with depression severity. We performed an RNA-Seq gene co-expression network analysis of mRNA data obtained from the peripheral blood mononuclear cells of unmedicated MDD (n = 78) and healthy control (n = 79) subjects. Across the combined MDD and HC groups, we assigned genes into modules using hierarchical clustering with a dynamic tree cut method and projected the expression data onto a lower-dimensional module space by computing the single-sample gene set enrichment score of each module. We tested the singlesample scores of each module for association with levels of depression severity measured by the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Scale (MADRS). Independent of MDD status, we identified 23 gene modules from the co-expression network. Two modules were significantly associated with the MADRS score after multiple comparison adjustment (adjusted p = 0.009, 0.028 at 0.05 FDR threshold), and one of these modules replicated in a previous RNA-Seq study of MDD (p = 0.03). The two MADRS-associated modules contain genes previously implicated in mood disorders and show enrichment of apoptosis and B cell receptor signaling. The genes in these modules show a correlation between network centrality and univariate association with depression, suggesting that intramodular hub genes are more likely to be related to MDD compared to other genes in a module.