A blood test for depression?

Philadelphia, PA, 22 July, 2010 – Blood tests have been extremely important tools aiding doctors in making medical diagnoses and in guiding the treatment of many diseases. However, psychiatry is one area of medicine where there are few diagnostic blood tests.

New scientific fields may someday generate blood tests that can be used for these purposes. Some of the areas under increasingly intensive study are genetics, the study of variations in the genes (DNA) that can be extracted from blood cells, and genomics like proteomics, the measurement of the levels of specific proteins in the blood, and gene expression profiling, which measures the levels of RNA produced from DNA as an indication of the level of the “activity” of particular genes.

Using the latter approach, Dutch researchers evaluated blood gene expression profiles in healthy individuals and patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder, or MDD. They identified a set of seven genes in whole blood that was able to distinguish un-medicated MDD patients from healthy controls.

“This is a first, but major step in providing a molecular diagnostic tool for depression,” explained Dr. Sabine Spijker, corresponding author of this study. Although psychiatry already has specific criteria for diagnosing mental health disorders, this type of diagnosis would be unbiased and particularly valuable for those with whom it is more difficult to have a conversation. It may also eventually assist in reducing the stigma associated with mental health problems.

“It is far too early to be confident that gene expression profiling will lead us to diagnostic or prognostic tests for depression. However, the objective of this line of research is extremely important,” cautions Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “In the past, many types of tests have been explored as potential diagnostic markers, but they all have failed to have sufficient sensitivity and specificity to guide doctors in making psychiatric diagnoses or choosing between treatments. I look forward to seeing whether the patterns of gene expression profiling are replicable and diagnostically specific as multiple groups report their findings.”

Most importantly, the authors hope that this study is a stepping stone for finding markers that might predict treatment outcome and recurrence.

Notes to Editors:

The article is “Stimulated Gene Expression Profiles as a Blood Marker of Major Depressive Disorder” by Sabine Spijker, Jeroen S. Van Zanten, Simone De Jong, Brenda W.J.H. Penninx, Richard van Dyck, Frans G. Zitman, Jan H. Smit, Bauke Ylstra, August B. Smit, and Witte J.G. Hoogendijk. Spijker, Van Zanten, De Jong, Penninx, van Dyck, J. Smit, Ylstra, A. Smit, and Hoogendijk are affiliated with VU University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Penninx and Zitman are from Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands. Penninx is also with University Medical Center, Groningen, the Netherlands. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 68, Issue 2 (July 15, 2010), published by Elsevier.

The authors’ disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

John H. Krystal, M.D. is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available at http://journals.elsevierhealth.com/webfiles/images/journals/bps/Biological_Psychiatry_Editorial_Disclosures_08_01_09.pdf.

Full text of the article mentioned above is available upon request. Contact Maureen Hunter at [email protected] to obtain a copy or to schedule an interview.

About Biological Psychiatry

This international rapid-publication journal is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry. It covers a broad range of topics in psychiatric neuroscience and therapeutics. Both basic and clinical contributions are encouraged from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major neuropsychiatric disorders. Full-length and Brief Reports of novel results, Commentaries, Case Studies of unusual significance, and Correspondence and Comments judged to be of high impact to the field are published, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Concise Reviews and Editorials that focus on topics of current research and interest are also published rapidly.

Biological Psychiatry (www.sobp.org/journal) is ranked 4th out of the 101 Psychiatry titles and 14th out of 219 Neurosciences titles on the 2008 ISI Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Scientific.

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