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A New Blood Test Is Able to Diagnose Depression


Image credit:Vincent van Gogh.

It is not always easy in our life; sometimes people are depressed for one reason or another. Among American adults, one out of ten is consistently getting the blues. As really serious mood disorder, a person with clinical depression can experience relentless negative feelings which can not be easily overcome or got rid of. Therefore, a correct diagnosis and treatment of depression will be significantly important in improvement of life quality.

According to the new study by Lukas Pezawas of the Medical University of Vienna and his team, the biomarkers in the blood might be quite helpful in future diagnosis of depression. Their research results were published in the latest edition of PLOS ONE.

Serotonin is regarded as a molecule capable of various functions, but its role is mainly concentrated on mood regulating, so it is also called the ‘happiness hormone’ by ordinary people.

Depression is always related to the low serotonin levels. Serotonin transporter (SERT) proteins make sure that the flow of serotonin moves to the desirable location in the cells. Sometimes the SERTs will reabsorb the serotonin. Such reabsorbing can cause something like clogged drain, so the signal fails to get to the next neuron.

If the diagnosis of depression is confirmed, doctors might try to target SERTs by giving prescription of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) so as to keep a cell from reabsorbing the serotonin and allow the signal to move on as desired. It is hoped that SSRIs could play a big role in regulating the flow of serotonin in the body for improvement of hormonal balance, thus mood would improved in a expected way.

To find more about this process, the scientists used functional MRI (fMRI) to identify in which way the serotonin was taken up by the cells in the blood and how it could be related with the depression neural network. By doing so, they discovered a very strong correlation between the two. This finding clearly showed that monitoring levels of serotonin in the blood could be much useful in diagnosing depression in the clinical sense.

This study is very exciting, for it is the first time to show that a blood test could be used for diagnosis of depression, which is the approach doctors have been looking for. As Pezawas said in a press release, it would become reality in the near future. Diagnosing on a biological basis might be helpful to make sure that the patients could get properly doses for treatment aiming to achieve the best possible clinical results.

Source: PLOS ONE

Journal reference: Scharinger, Christian, et al. “Platelet Serotonin Transporter Function Predicts Default-Mode Network Activity.” PloS one 9.3 (2014): e92543.