Johns Hopkins team envisions postpartum depression blood test

Doctors may be able to predict the likelihood of postpartum depression, Johns Hopkins researchers believe, by using a blood test that screens for two mutated genes. They studied mice and 52 pregnant women to identify the epigenetic biomarkers in question.

Details are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The jury is out on why women develop postpartum depression, a condition that can kick in within a month of childbirth, last up to a year and include symptoms such as sadness, exhaustion and anxiety. And so it is intriguing that the Johns Hopkins team sees the chance of a viable blood test for the condition. Based on mouse studies and subsequent tests in pregnant women, they determined that the genes TTC9B and HP1BP3 could predict with 85% certainty which women would develop postpartum depression.

Why those two genes? The Johns Hopkins team believes that estrogen introduces epigenetic changes in the hippocampus region in the brain (which determines mood). And it zeroed in on those two genes from that part of the brain through the use of a statistical model to find genes affected by those changes.

The team is not alone in the quest for a postpartum depression blood test. Warwick Medical School researchers in the U.K., for example, came up with a blood test that would identify changes in a single letter in the genetic code as a way to spot women most at risk for the condition.

In both cases, the usual disclaimer applies here: More research is needed before a viable test can be put to use. But the Johns Hopkins team, led by professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences Zachary Kaminsky, anticipates a larger study involving blood samples from a much larger group of pregnant women.

The Johns Hopkins researchers are guided by the belief that earlier spotting of postpartum depression can lead to sooner treatment. And that, in turn, increases the chances of minimizing or even preventing the condition's onset. Their goal: a blood test that could be used routinely in the course of a pregnant woman's care that looks for epigenetic biomarkers.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract

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