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Genetic Tests Could Help Decide the Right Anti-depressants

Good news at hand for psychiatrists. And for patients too. Only the drug industry, those in marketing especially, might not be too very excited . Doctors may not have to fumble around switching from one anti-depressant to another hereafter. With a simple blood test, they will be able to characterize a patients unique genetic profile, determining what biological type of depression the patient has. Thereafter it should be relatively easy to figure out which antidepressant is likely to work best.

With hit-or-miss approach gone, doctors may have little time entertaining the nattily clad representatives of drug manufacturers. Scientists have identified genetic variations that affect specific neurotransmitter functions, which could explain why some patients respond to some drugs but not to others.

For example, some depressed patients respond quickly to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which relieve depression, in part, by flooding the brain with serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that transmits nerve signals between nerve cells and also causes blood vessels to narrow. Changes in the serotonin levels in the brain can alter the mood. Hence the rationale in using drugs containing serotonin in countering depression.

Now only those who have abnormally low levels of serotonin may respond to SSRIs. Yet others may have an abnormality in other neurotransmitters that regulate mood, like norepinephrine or dopamine. SSRIs could have no impact on them. In a report last October in the journal Science, Dr. Francis Lee identified a genetic mutation that could potentially predict patients responses to an entire class of antidepressants.

He inserted into a mouse a defective variant of the human gene for brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that is increased in the brain with SSRI treatment and is critical to the health of neurons. Then he subjected these humanized mice to stress and found that they did not respo
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