Potential Biomarkers Found for Bipolar Disorder
> 2/27/2008 9:52:58 AM

Psychiatry has markedly matured as a science over the past decade with advances in brain-imaging technology and evidence-based practices. However, the validity of psychiatric diagnoses are sometimes still met with skepticism because they often cannot be confirmed with objective measurements. Mood disorders in particular have had to rely on patients' reports about their subjective internal states. That may all change with new research from the Indiana University School of Medicine. A research team, led by Dr. Alexander Niculescu III, discovered that certain biomarkers in the blood correlate to the vacillations of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose because it might appear like simple mania or depression depending on when it is observed. And a patient, swept up in a manic high, may lack the objectivity to evaluate the abnormality of their mood. Dr. Niculescu III found that the expression of 10 genes, five for depression and five for mania, can be detected in blood samples. The expression of these genes, which primarily govern myelination and growth factor signaling, varied depending on what mood phase the blood donor reported. Not only were the biomarkers able to predict whether the patient was feeling manic or depressed, but they could also predict the intensity of the mood.

These objective measurements are revolutionary because the only biological indications of bipolar disorder previously accessible to doctors had to be collected post-mortem. Accurate biomarkers will be helpful for multiple reasons. They will clear up the uncertainty around diagnosis, they will determine what phase a patient is in, and they may be able to gauge whether treatment is working. While it might be impossible for a patient to judge whether the vacillations in their mood are leveling off, an objective graph with clearly mellowing curves could show that one medication is more effective than another.

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