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Scientists Spot Biochemical Sign of Depression
Date:3/11/2008

Could lead to quick blood test that would show whether an antidepressant is working

TUESDAY, March 11 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've discovered a biomarker for depression that could lead to a quick lab test to determine whether a particular antidepressant is making headway against the disease.

"This may be a very simple biochemical indicator for depression," said study co-author Mark Rasenick, director of the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The test "wouldn't tell you which [medication] to start, but it would tell you if the one you're taking is working."

It may even be possible to use the test to determine whether rounds of psychotherapy are reaping any benefit, he said.

For now, however, such a test is a hypothetical, pending further exploration of the finding reported in the March edition of The Journal of Neuroscience.

At issue is whether the brain itself shows physical or chemical signs of depression.

The researchers looked at the interaction of neurotransmitters and a protein called Gs alpha. In brain cells, the protein acts like a kind of butler, passing messages from neurotransmitters on the outside and amplifying their messages, Rasenick explained.

When the protein is working properly, it's like a butler whose "hands are just flying, cooking and cleaning at the same time," he said. But when the brain is depressed, "it just sits there in the corner."

In this post-mortem study, the researchers looked at the protein in the brains of 18 depressed people who committed suicide and compared them to the brains of non-depressed people. They found the protein would have worked less effectively in the brain cells of the suicide victims.

The findings raise the prospect of a blood test that would measure within days whether antidepressants are effectively treating depression, Rasenick said.

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