Scientists from Indiana University have discovered new blood gene expression biomarkers that could help develop novel diagnostics and curatives targeted for devastating stress–related disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The researchers assessed blood from more than 250 veterans in more than 600 visits at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, with an aim to identify a molecule that tracks stress intensity.
The blood gene expression was evaluated in participants in both high and low stress states for over a decade. Through a step wise discovery, the scientists were able to narrow down their research to 285 genetic markers which were found associated with 269 genes.
The biomarkers identified to have best overall convergent functional evidence (CFE) for involvement in stress included FKBP5, DDX6, B2M, LAIR1, RTN4, and NUB1.
Over half of the highly predictive biomarkers identified for stress had prior evidence of involvement in suicide and other psychiatric disorders.
Some of the biomarkers were identified to be targets of existing drugs and may be of potential utility in patient stratification and pharmacogenomics approaches.
“PTSD is a disorder that affects a lot of veterans, especially those involved in combat. It’s also an underappreciated and underdiagnosed disorder among the civilian population, whether it be the result of abuse, rape, violence or accidents.” mentioned Alexander Niculescu, a lead researcher and Psychiatry Professor, Indiana University.
PTSD can occur in an individual on experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event where significant physical harm could have happened. It can result in long-term psychological response marked by shock, anger, nervousness, fear and guilt. They could get worsen by extending the severity and duration of recurring flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty in breathing or sleeping, shooting of blood pressure and other aggravating symptoms.
The test may require several years to be developed into a common clinical assay.
“There are similar tests like this in other fields, like cancer, where a physician can biopsy the affected part of the body to determine the stage of disease,” stated Niculescu. “But when it comes to mental health, biopsying the brain isn’t an option. Our research is applying similar concepts from other areas of medicine, but we’re engineering new ways that will allow us to track mental symptoms objectively, including stress, using blood, or so-called ‘liquid biopsies’.” stated Niculescu in a press report.
The study was published in Molecular Psychiatry last week.