July 19, 2024

Blood Testing Uncovers Biomarkers Linked to Suicidal Thoughts

In a new study published in Translational Psychiatry, the researchers found that individuals with depression and suicidal ideation had detectable compounds in their blood that could be used as biomarkers to identify those at a higher risk of becoming suicidal. The study also revealed sex-based differences in how depression impacts cell metabolism.

Depression is a complex disease with physical effects throughout the body. While the primary symptoms of depression are psychological, recent studies have shown that measuring markers of cellular metabolism can help in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illnesses. This approach has the potential to personalize mental health care and identify new targets for future drugs.

Led by Dr. Robert Naviaux, the researchers analyzed the blood of 99 participants with treatment-refractory depression and suicidal ideation, as well as an equal number of healthy controls. Among the hundreds of biochemicals circulating in the blood, they identified five compounds that could be used as biomarkers to classify patients with treatment-refractory depression and suicidal ideation. Interestingly, the five biomarkers varied between men and women.

Dr. Naviaux explained the significance of these findings, stating, “If we have 100 people who either don’t have depression or who have depression and suicidal ideation, we would be able to correctly identify 85-90 of those at greatest risk based on five metabolites in males and another five metabolites in females. This could be important in terms of diagnostics, but it also opens up a broader conversation in the field about what’s actually leading to these metabolic changes.”

While there were differences in blood metabolism between males and females, some metabolic markers of suicidal ideation were consistent across both sexes. One such marker was mitochondrial dysfunction, which occurs when the energy-producing structures of our cells malfunction. Mitochondria are vital structures in our cells, and dysfunctions in their functions are associated with various human diseases.

The researchers hypothesize that suicidal attempts may be part of a physiological impulse to stop a stress response that has become unbearable at the cellular level. ATP, the primary energy currency of all cells, plays a crucial role in this process. Dr. Naviaux explained, “When ATP is inside the cell, it acts like an energy source, but outside the cell, it is a danger signal that activates protective pathways in response to environmental stressors.”

The study’s findings have implications for personalized medicine in depression treatment. Some of the metabolic deficiencies identified in the study are found in compounds that are available as supplements, such as folate and carnitine. The researchers believe that individualizing depression treatment with these supplements could help improve patients’ response to treatment and prevent them from reaching the threshold of suicidal thoughts.

However, Dr. Naviaux cautions that these supplements are not cures. He stated, “None of these metabolites are a magic bullet that will completely reverse somebody’s depression. However, our results tell us that there may be things we can do to nudge the metabolism in the right direction to help patients respond better to treatment, and in the context of suicide, this could be just enough to prevent people from crossing that threshold.”

In addition to the potential for personalized medicine, the research may also lead to the development of new drugs that can target mitochondrial dysfunction. This could have wide-ranging implications for human health, as many chronic diseases are comorbid with depression due to the stress caused by dealing with an illness for an extended period of time. By treating depression and suicidal ideation at a metabolic level, it may be possible to improve outcomes for these chronic illnesses and save more lives.

The findings of this study shed light on the complex relationship between cellular metabolism and depression. By identifying biomarkers of suicidal thoughts, researchers have the potential to revolutionize mental health care and prevent suicide. Further research is needed to validate these findings and explore additional metabolic markers that could be targeted for intervention.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it