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Biomarker for Clinical Depression in Teenage Boys Identified

last modified May 07, 2015 11:16 AM

February 19, 2014

A study conducted by the Developmental and Lifecourse Resarch Group in collaboration with the BCNI, and the NIHR CLAHRC for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough recently identified a reliable biological predictor for the development of clinical depression in teenage boys who already suffer from depressive symptoms. Published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, it showed that high levels of cortisol can identify those who are likely to develop major depressive disorder.

According to Professor Ian Goodyer who led the study: “Through our research, we now have a very real way of identifying those teenage boys most likely to develop clinical depression. This will help us strategically target preventions and interventions at these individuals and hopefully help reduce their risk of serious episodes of depression and their consequences in adult life.”

Odds Ratio

Odds ratios of developing clinical depression in the subgroup of teenagers with both high depressive symptoms and high cortisol levels.

The researchers collected saliva samples from 1,858 teenagers. They also asked the teenagers to complete a questionnaire in which they reported signs and symptoms of depression. The study team then followed up with the participants at multiple points over a 12 to 36 month period. In this follow-up, the teenagers were assessed clinically to identify those who develop major depressive disorder.

Through these longitudinal measurements, the group was able to identify a group of teenagers who were 14 times more likely than a reference group to develop clinical depression at a later stage: boys who showed high levels of cortisol as well as high levels of depressive symptoms.

In a recent BBC interviewProfessor Barbara Sahakian, co-author of the study said: “We think that the cortisol is actually the factor that is producing this effect, because we’ve also seen something else in this subgroup, something we call over-generalised memory – which is normally seen in depression, but we also know that in studies you can induce over-generalised memory by infusing cortisol in healthy people.”

While both cortisol and high levels of depressive symptoms also predicted clinical depression in girls, this prediction was nowhere near as strong: girls with both of these traits were only 4 times as likely to develop clinical depression compared to the reference group.

Lead author Dr Matthew Owens said: “This new biomarker suggests that we may be able to offer a more personalised approach to tackling boys at risk for depression. This could be a much needed way of reducing the number of people suffering from depression, and in particular stemming a risk at a time when there has been an increasing rate of suicide amongst teenage boys and young men.”

This work was funded by the Wellcome Trust and completed under the NIHR CLAHRC for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. This article was adapted from a Cambridge University Press Release.