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Nancy Schimelpfening

Possible Depression Test Discovered

By March 11, 2008

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Researchers have discovered that a change in location of a protein in the brain could serve as a biomarker for depression. If their discovery pans out, it could allow for a laboratory test which would not only identify patients with depression, but could also rapidly determine if a particular antidepressant was helping them.

According to study author Mark Rasenick, a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago College of Medicine, a protein called Gs alpha, which mediates the action of neurotransmitters, is found in areas where it is less effective in depressed people. When people take antidepressants, the Gs alpha protein moves to areas where it can better help facilitate the action of neurotransmitters.

The implication of this finding, says Rasenick, is that "we will be able to tell you if you are depressed and more importantly, whether you are responding to the chosen antidepressant therapy."

Having a rapid method for determining whether an antidepressant is having an effect could be a real boon for patients, who often must wait several weeks to see if a particular antidepressant will benefit them.

Rasenick and his colleagues are already working on research to confirm and expand upon their findings.

The study appears in the March 12 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

March 12, 2008 at 11:37 am
(1) Peter says:

If this pans out, it’s excellent news, especially for those of us who have been on several antidepressants over the years, and when our current AD seems to be pooping out, are leery of switching to a new one because we don’t want to go through the long wait to see if it works, while also having to endure any negative side-effects.

It’d be great to know right away if a new antidepressant we’re trying would be effective or not.

Also, for those who need to go on disability for depression (or are just sick of friends, family or even society discounting their suffering), this could be a real physical proof to others of their really having depression, and prove that it’s not “just in their heads.”

March 12, 2008 at 2:23 pm
(2) FW Napier says:

Thank Heavens for this discovery. Maybe now we will no longer be treated as imbeciles. The prejudice we suffer is depressing. I can’t wait for this test to become available to all of us who suffer from major depression.

March 12, 2008 at 4:02 pm
(3) Dr Martin Russell says:

I fear this is a very small finding, and only gets people’s hopes up.

The recent paper, “Initial Severity and Antidepressant Benefits: A Meta-Analysis of Data Submitted to the Food and Drug Administration” suggests the ineffectiveness of current antidepressants in the first 6 weeks of therapy for all but the most severe cases.

People with depression do not need medical researchers to add disappointment to their lives again.

March 12, 2008 at 7:51 pm
(4) Paul Maurice Martin says:

Avoiding needless meds would be a real plus for patients. As to diagnosing depression, there are some pretty reliable tests around, some very easy to take, like the Beck Depression Inventory.

March 12, 2008 at 8:06 pm
(5) brenda says:


March 12, 2008 at 9:24 pm
(6) laura says:

I’m afraid I have to agree with the doctor who made the third comment. I understand how very very much we want things to happen that are positive when we have depression. However, there are already tests (and I’ve had them) particularly the ones done by Neuroscience Labs, which do measure the amount of neurotransmitters that someone has, although those tests don’t make it clear whether or not those neurotransmitters are doing their jobs or if something is “short–circuiting”. There have been other studies recently, some cited on about.com, that indicate that in double-blind studies, placebos were as effective as antidepressants in many cases. (Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just commenting on what I read. I may be somewhat jaded too since I started the antidepressant thing in the seventies when the best they could do was the tricyclics, to which I reacted with severe symptoms such as vertigo, that didn’t go away. Depression tests/screening questionaires are subjective. Even when there is an additional physical cause, such as hypothyroidism which, when treated successfully may or may not improve the depression, I don’t want a doctor, based on this study, telling me that this particular protein has moved in the brain so my antidepressant should be working. I don’t want to be told that my depression is all in my head either. But, thankfully. At the very least, I’d think that more research would be necessary. I know we all want clear proof that are illness is a very real illness. I think the study is interesting and may indicate further investigation. However, even if the action of this protein indicates that an antidepressant may be beneficial, we may run into problems if a doctor says the test shows that the antidepressant is working but we experience no reduction in symptoms. I know we can’t exactly have it both ways. I believe in mental health parity and I know how difficult it is to get diagnosed, get on disability, get enough therapy etc. I am also concerned that even though we’ve won a victory with mental health parity lawa, an increasing number of therapists and psychiatrists, at least the ones I know, have decided that the paperwork for insurance, particularly MEDICARE and MEDICAID, isn’t worth the hassle and/or the payments are set too low and are paid much too slowly.

Again, I’m not trying to dash hopes. Lord knows we need to keep hoping and keep on top of the research. But I think however difficult it may be, we need to try to keep a balanced view, not discounting the studies, acknowledging that it is an interesting finding but not getting our hopes up too much based on one isolated study. Even the study says they “may” have found a biomarker for depression or that this may also allow a patient to know if a given antidepressant will work, I can see problems coming if, for example, the presence of the moved protein is used as the sole means of determining whether a person is depressed or whether the meds are working.

March 12, 2008 at 10:20 pm
(7) Mark Rasenick says:

Just wanted to add something from the source. It is not my intention to raise or dash the hopes of anybody and neither I nor my colleagues can promise anything other than more science (assuming that we can get the necessary funds). The take home message is that there really is a biological signature of depression–frankly, there may be more than one. What we have done is establish that signature in a pre-clinical model and establish that the model held in human depression. If we are able (yes–IF) to extend this to blood cells, it should prove a rapid indicator of therapeutic efficacy. Since it will done with two samples from the same person, individual variablilty is not a factor. So–put pressure on your senators and members of congress to override the erosion of funding for biomedical research at the NIH and we will push forward with this.

Frankly, the study cited by #3 is old news–R. Gibbons did this years ago (placebo=cognitive therapy=drugs). There are too many people suffering with moderate-severe depression and we need to help them.

BTW, we are at the University of Illinois Chicago–not U. Chicago.

March 13, 2008 at 2:21 pm
(8) depression says:

Mark, thank you for stopping by. I really appreciate the addition of your comments. Thanks for the correction of the name too.

March 14, 2008 at 6:59 am

I’ve seen these small “breakthroughs” many times through out the years and when the don’t end up making a big enough difference, they don’t get to the low income end soon enough anyway – so why get my hopes up? I’ve learned to work with what I am given and have become so much more spiritual in my own personal quest to end my suffering. What I’d like to know is how the tests come to be? What about these studies the drug companies are doing with people who opt-in and get paid very little for allowing them to mess up their heads so bad they end up needing REAL mental help? I happen to have known one of these guinea pigs, and have met others. They don’t even tell the truth about certain things or don’t take the meds they are given out of fear. They just do it for the desperately needed money. What does this say about these tests results they’re putting out? This information for example, new medication, would be completely inaccurate and totally unsafe! I don’t know how the Universities do their testing, but the whole dang thing scares me anymore. A little peace of mind would be nice….?

March 16, 2008 at 1:28 am
(10) Candace says:

Would help a lot if more people understood ‘us’ more. We do mean well…and there is no reason to avoid ‘us’.

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