Depression continues to be the leading cause of disability around the world. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that, at present, more than 300 million people suffer from this mental illness. However, despite how seemingly commonplace this condition is worldwide, it seems that scientists still have a lot to learn about it.
For example, clinicians continue to configure the classification of the condition, which is now held as not a single disease but more a collection of a variety of behaviors and feelings that often have very different underlying causes.
According to a Stanford University professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Natalie Rasgon, “Depressive disorders can present differently in different people. What is known now is that depression affects not just the brain but the whole organism.”
Rasgon has led a team on a new study to find new evidence of a potential biomarker for the disease we know, collectively, as depression. The hope now is that this could lead to more effective treatments of what can be quite a crippling disease.
The study, which involves researchers not only from the United States but also Sweden, has identified a specific, naturally-occurring chemical that appears to be lower in people who suffer from depression. This chemical is known as acetyl-L-carnitine, or LAC.
Rasgon goes on to say, “Previous animal studies convincingly showed the role of LAC in models of depression. This study is the first confirmation of the results from animal studies in human subjects with depression.”
As such, the researchers in this study looked at blood LAC levels in 116 people to find that depression is commonly associated with significantly lower levels of this particular chemical than in healthy people.
Rasgon adds, “We are excited with these results and are working on extending them to further understand the role of LAC in patients receiving treatment for depression. It is one of the pieces of a very large puzzle that constitutes depressive disorders as an illness.”
Of course, although the study certainly demonstrates some new implications about depression, the senior study author warns that the only solid conclusion is that we need further study to confirm them. But the potential for a blood test that diagnosis depression based on LAC levels is definitely a noble pursuit.
The results of this study have been published, this week, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.