Test Identifies Genetic Markers of Depression

Adolescent genetic markers for depression pinpointed through blood test

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Mood changes in teens and the subjective method of relying on patient's self-reported symptoms can make a major depression diagnosis challenging.

With this in mind, scientists have unveiled the first blood test capable of picking up a specific set of genetic markers for major depression in teens.

"See a psychiatrist if you suspect depression."

Eva Redei, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead investigator of the study, noted that currently depression is "treated with a blunt instrument."

She said that would be equivalent to treating type 1 or 2 diabetes the same way, noting that mental health professionals can do better for kids.

In addition to being the first genetic blood marker test for depression, it also is the first to identify subtypes of depression. It's capable of distinguishing adolescents with major depression from young people with major depression combined with anxiety disorder.

During the small study researchers enrolled 14 teens with major depression who had not received clinical treatment and 14 age and gender matched adolescents without depression. The participants were between 15 and 19 years old.

Investigators drew blood and tested for 26 genetic markers that had been previously identified and were associated with depression or anxiety in pre-clinical studies. Of those, 11 markers were capable of distinguishing depression in patients, and 18 were used to identify whether a participant had major depression alone or in combination with anxiety disorder.

"These 11 genes are probably the tip of the iceberg because depression is a complex illness," Redei said. "But it's an entree into a much bigger phenomenon that has to be explored. It clearly indicates we can diagnose from blood and create a blood diagnosis test for depression."

Between 2 and 4 percent of pre-adolescent children experience major depression in comparison to 10 to 20 percent by late adolescence. An earlier onset of major depression generally has a worse prognosis than when it starts in adulthood.

The study was recently published in journal Translational Psychiatry.

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Review Date: 
April 16, 2012
Last Updated:
April 19, 2012