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Metabolic Markers May Help Predict Recurrent Depression

January 27, 2021

Specific metabolites may predict which patients with major depressive disorder are at risk for recurrence, a study published online in Translational Psychiatry suggests. 

“This is evidence for a mitochondrial nexus at the heart of depression,” said senior author Robert K. Naviaux, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, pediatrics, and pathology at University of California San Diego School of Medicine. “It’s a small study, but it is the first to show the potential of using metabolic markers as predictive clinical indicators of patients at greatest risk—and lower risk—for recurring bouts of major depressive symptoms.”

VIDEO: Get more insights on the study from Dr. Naviaux

The findings are from an investigation in The Netherlands that involved 45 women and 23 men with recurrent major depressive disorder in antidepressant-free remission as well as 59 age- and gender-matched control subjects. Researchers collected blood from patients in remission and followed them over 2.5 years.

A metabolic signature present when patients were in remission predicted which patients were prone to relapse over the next 2.5 years, researchers found. The prediction boasted an accuracy above 90%.

Analysis revealed that certain kinds of lipids, including eicosanoids and sphingolipids, and purines were among the most predictive chemicals, according to the study. Purines are involved in communications used by cells under stress, a process known as purinergic signaling.

In patients with recurrent major depressive disorder, metabolic changes in 6 pathways were associated with fundamental alterations of important cellular activities, researchers reported.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Mocking RJT, Naviaux JC, Li K, et al. Metabolic features of recurrent major depressive disorder in remission, and the risk of future recurrence. Translational Psychiatry. 2021;11(1):37.

LaFee S. Metabolism may play role in recurrent major depression [press release]. San Diego, California: University of California San Diego; January 12, 2021.

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