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Inflammation markers could guide depression treatments

Inflammation markers could guide depression treatments
19th January 2016

Being able to identify inflammation markers could help guide depression treatment in the future, according to a new study.

Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine wanted to see which forms of depression would respond best to certain treatments. Previous work has suggested that therapies able to interfere with a brain chemical called glutamate could offer high success rates when used in some patients.

However, finding which forms of depression benefit the most from glutamate-targeting treatment can be difficult. 

Published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the study looked at 50 patients with depression who were not taking antidepressants at the time. They wanted to measure the levels of systemic inflammation by looking at the amount of glutamate in the brain.

Glutamate enables neurons in the brain to communicate with each other, but excess levels can be toxic for brain health.

During their study, the team gave each participant a blood test for C-reactive protein (CRP), which was measured on repeat visits to make sure its levels were stable.

Researchers in the study also used imaging techniques to measure glutamate levels in the basal ganglia, which is key for motor control, motivation and decision making. 

They found that depressed patients with signs of systemic inflammation had higher levels of glutamate in the areas of the brain that are important for motivation. 

"Our results suggest that inflammation markers can guide us to which depressed patients respond best to glutamate blockers," stated lead author Dr Ebrahim Haroon, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and Winship Cancer Institute. 

He said this could be an important step towards making depression treatment personalised for each individual.

Dr Haroon added that the study does not directly say how ketamine and other glutamate-targeting drugs may help depression but it could suggest other potential candidates.

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