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Individuals treated for depression rarely experience a quick solution. When antidepressant medications result in a successful treatment, symptom improvement is still weeks away when the first pill is taken. For many, several options are tried before the clinician is able to prescribe the right antidepressant that will reduce symptom severity.

For those who do not respond to antidepressants, the repeated attempts to treat symptoms can lead to new levels of hopelessness and frustration. The National Institute of Mental Health conducted the largest study ever on depression treatment and discovered that only one-third of patients experienced relief with their initial prescription. An additional one-third experienced no relief after being treated with multiple separate medications.

A recent study led by Dr. Katherine Tansey of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London provides new information about the potential to predict antidepressant response through identifying genetic markers.

While there is more to be learned before genomic predictors can be identified, the new study provides the initial step of determining the degree to which an individual’s genetic make-up affects the response to antidepressants.

The study’s findings are published in a recent issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The researchers used a group of 2,799 individuals who had been treated with an antidepressant to estimate the potential magnitude of the influence of genetic variants. The participants all had a diagnosis of major depressive disorder and were represented by genome-wide genotyping data.

The study’s analysis showed that genetic variants account for 42 percent of differences in response to antidepressants.

Dr. Tansey explains that while there are no genetic markers that exhibit a strong influence on response to antidepressants, they do know that there are many markers that play a role. Each marker may have a small role, but they add up to an important predictor of antidepressant response.

Experts note that there is still a lot of work to do before genetic markers are useful for predicting and guiding depression treatment. Before the process can be implemented for use in guiding treatment, there must be an identification of genomic markers that predict response. In addition, those same markers must predict the response of an alternative method of treatment for depression.

Both of these steps must be complete before the prediction of antidepressant response will be useful for implementation into clinical practice.

While there is more information that must be gained to accurately predict antidepressant response and determine how to use genetic information to influence treatment, the findings provide an important step in adequately treating all depression patients.

The authors note that even if prediction of response were possible, a less-favorable genetic profile may still not warrant the withholding of an antidepressant treatment. While the path to personalized treatment is unclear, the researchers hope that the findings will provide a springboard to improving outcomes for depression patients.

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