Discovery of blood transcriptomic markers for depression in animal models and pilot validation in subjects with early-onset major depression

Transl Psychiatry. 2012 Apr 17;2(4):e101. doi: 10.1038/tp.2012.26.


Early-onset major depressive disorder (MDD) is a serious and prevalent psychiatric illness in adolescents and young adults. Current treatments are not optimally effective. Biological markers of early-onset MDD could increase diagnostic specificity, but no such biomarker exists. Our innovative approach to biomarker discovery for early-onset MDD combined results from genome-wide transcriptomic profiles in the blood of two animal models of depression, representing the genetic and the environmental, stress-related, etiology of MDD. We carried out unbiased analyses of this combined set of 26 candidate blood transcriptomic markers in a sample of 15-19-year-old subjects with MDD (N=14) and subjects with no disorder (ND, N=14). A panel of 11 blood markers differentiated participants with early-onset MDD from the ND group. Additionally, a separate but partially overlapping panel of 18 transcripts distinguished subjects with MDD with or without comorbid anxiety. Four transcripts, discovered from the chronic stress animal model, correlated with maltreatment scores in youths. These pilot data suggest that our approach can lead to clinically valid diagnostic panels of blood transcripts for early-onset MDD, which could reduce diagnostic heterogeneity in this population and has the potential to advance individualized treatment strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age of Onset
  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / genetics
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Comorbidity
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / blood
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / genetics*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Markers / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Pilot Projects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred BN
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Rats, Inbred WKY
  • Species Specificity
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics
  • Young Adult


  • Genetic Markers