Researchers Discover Protein Biomarkers That Can Help Diagnose Bipolar Disorder

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Yaneff_091215Bipolar disorder is a brain and nervous system disorder that is also called manic depression or manic-depressive illness. People with bipolar disorder experience the most manic highs and most depressive lows. The disorder causes unusual shifts in energy, activity levels, mood, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

It is a hard disorder to diagnose since bipolar disorder involves a wide range of severe symptoms. Manic symptoms will include a long period of feeling overly happy or outgoing. Depressive symptoms include lengthy periods of sadness or hopelessness. There are also noticeable impulsive signs of the disorder, such as spontaneously quitting your job or racking up large credit card bills. Other symptoms will include times of sleeplessness and racing thoughts and delusions that lead to misery. As a result, bipolar disorder can have a devastating effect on jobs, relationships, and friendships.

The disorder can be treated; however, the diagnosis must be accurate. This can be difficult since bipolar disorder will overlap with other conditions, including schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and other personality disorders.

The current diagnosis process for bipolar disorder is based on an interview. Sometimes brain scans and blood tests can help rule out other conditions, but they cannot diagnosis bipolar disorder.

However, in a new study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, Mayo Clinic researchers have discovered six protein biomarkers that could help diagnose bipolar I disorder. The markers may help as a diagnostic tool for treating mood disorders if this initial discovery can be replicated.

“The potential of having a biological test to help accurately diagnose bipolar disorder would make a huge difference to medical practice,” explained lead study author Dr. Mark Frye, who is the head of psychology and psychiatry at Mayo Clinic. “It would then help clinicians to choose the most appropriate treatment for hard-to-diagnose individuals.”

Bipolar I disorder will include manic episodes that last about a week, and the attacks may be severe enough to require immediate hospitalization. There are also depressive episodes that last around two weeks.

For the study, the researchers examined 272 different proteins in 288 patient blood samples. The study included 46 bipolar I disorder patients, 49 bipolar II disorder patients, 52 unipolar depression patients, and 141 individuals without a mood disorder who acted as the control for the trial. The team found 73 different proteins among the four study groups, and six markers were significantly different between bipolar I disorder and the control.

The researchers consider the study to be, “one of the first studies to assess the feasibility of high throughout multiplexed immunoassay technology (272 proteins) trying to distinguish different types of mood disorders.”

Although the study is small, it is a great starting point. Larger studies are needed to replicate the association between the six proteins and bipolar I disorder.

Previous research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in February found that high C-reactive protein is linked in bipolar disorder patients. C-reactive protein is associated with the immune system and inflammation. Brain-derived nerve growth factors are also linked with bipolar disorder. Deficiencies in neurotransmitters are also linked with bipolar disorder, including serotonin, acetylcholine, dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), histamine, norepinephrine and noradrenaline.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Frye, M.A., et al., “Feasibility of investigating differential proteomic expression in depression: implications for biomarker development in mood disorders,” Translational Psychiatry, 2015, 5, e689; doi: 10.1038/tp.2015.185.

Nellis, B., “Mayo Clinic Researchers Identify Potential Biomarkers for Bipolar I Disorder,” Mayo Clinic web site, December 8, 2015;
“Mayo Clinic researchers identify six potential biomarkers bipolar I disorder,” Medical Xpress web site, December 8, 2015;
“Could protein levels help diagnose bipolar disorder?” Medical News Today web site, December 9, 2015;
“What Is Bipolar Disorder?” National Institute of Mental Health web site;, last accessed December 9, 2015.
Dargel, A.A., et al., “C-reactive protein alterations in bipolar disorder: a meta-analysis,” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2015; 76(2): 142-150, doi: 10.4088/JCP.14r09007.