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. 2019 Apr 15;249:336-346.
doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2019.02.009. Epub 2019 Feb 6.

Moving Pharmacoepigenetics Tools for Depression Toward Clinical Use

Free PMC article

Moving Pharmacoepigenetics Tools for Depression Toward Clinical Use

Laura M Hack et al. J Affect Disord. .
Free PMC article


Background: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a leading cause of disability worldwide, and over half of patients do not achieve symptom remission following an initial antidepressant course. Despite evidence implicating a strong genetic basis for the pathophysiology of MDD, there are no adequately validated biomarkers of treatment response routinely used in clinical practice. Pharmacoepigenetics is an emerging field that has the potential to combine both genetic and environmental information into treatment selection and further the goal of precision psychiatry. However, this field is in its infancy compared to the more established pharmacogenetics approaches.

Methods: We prepared a narrative review using literature searches of studies in English pertaining to pharmacoepigenetics and treatment of depressive disorders conducted in PubMed, Google Scholar, PsychINFO, and Ovid Medicine from inception through January 2019. We reviewed studies of DNA methylation and histone modifications in both humans and animal models of depression.

Results: Emerging evidence from human and animal work suggests a key role for epigenetic marks, including DNA methylation and histone modifications, in the prediction of antidepressant response. The challenges of heterogeneity of patient characteristics and loci studied as well as lack of replication that have impacted the field of pharmacogenetics also pose challenges to the development of pharmacoepigenetic tools. Additionally, given the tissue specific nature of epigenetic marks as well as their susceptibility to change in response to environmental factors and aging, pharmacoepigenetic tools face additional challenges to their development.

Limitations: This is a narrative and not systematic review of the literature on the pharmacoepigenetics of antidepressant response. We highlight key studies pertaining to pharmacoepigenetics and treatment of depressive disorders in humans and depressive-like behaviors in animal models, regardless of sample size or methodology. While we discuss DNA methylation and histone modifications, we do not cover microRNAs, which have been reviewed elsewhere recently.

Conclusions: Utilization of genome-wide approaches and reproducible epigenetic assays, careful selection of the tissue assessed, and integration of genetic and clinical information into pharmacoepigenetic tools will improve the likelihood of developing clinically useful tests.

Keywords: Antidepressants; DNA methylation; Decision support tools (DSTs); Depression; Histones; Pharmacoepigenetics.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of Interest: GRF, VPJ, and JQ have no conflicts of interest to declare.


Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Sites of findings in pharmacoepigenetic studies of antidepressant response across the human BDNF gene. Gene truncated to focus on exons that have been studied in relation to antidepressant response. Arrows point to promoters associated with individual exons. Abbreviations: 5mC – 5-methylcytosine; ACS – acute coronary syndrome; H3K27me3 – histone 3 lysine 27 trimethylation; MDD – major depressive disorder.

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