A team of Dutch researchers have identified a set of seven genes in whole blood that helped them to distinguish un-medicated major depressive disorder (MDD) patients from healthy controls. The work throws up the possibility of a blood test for depression in the near future.
The study appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
"This is a first, but major step in providing a molecular diagnostic tool for depression," says 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.
He adds: "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.