Depression is a serious health condition that affects around 9.5 percent of the population at any given time. The condition is usually diagnosed based on patient symptoms, but this process is flawed. Unlike patient interviews, biomarkers are free from human error. In a new study, researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine explain how they are able to use specific biomarkers to diagnose depression subgroups — a finding they hope will lead not only to better diagnoses, but also better treatments.

The team was able to identify biomarkers in four specific subtypes of depression by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans of 1,000 patients with clinical depression, and comparing them to healthy control subjects. According to the study, these biomarkers may help doctors to better diagnose depression subtypes and determine which patients would most likely benefit from a new targeted neurostimulation therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Read: Anxiety vs. Depression: How They Differ And What To Do

"We can now predict with high accuracy whether or not a patient will respond to transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy, which is significant because it takes five weeks to know if this type of treatment works,” Dr. Conor Liston, a researcher, explained in a recent statement.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy uses magnetic fields to create electrical impulses in the brain. It involves placing an electromagnetic coil against the scalp in order to deliver a magnetic pulse to nerve cells directly in the brain. According to the Mayo Clinic, this helps to ease depression symptoms and improve mood. It’s helpful to understand which patients would best benefit from this treatment ahead of time because it takes so long before the effects are felt.

The study found that distinct brain patterns differentiated the four biotypes. These subtypes were linked with specific symptoms. For example, according to the press release, reduced connectivity in the part of the brain that regulates fear-related behavior and reappraisal of negative emotional stimuli was most severe in biotypes one and four. These subtypes also exhibited increased anxiety.

At the moment, the team would like to conduct further research on the biomarkers before they are able to use them in clinical diagnosis. Other treatment options also available for depression include antidepressant medications and cognitive behavioral therapy, WebMD reported.

Source: Drysdale AT, Grsenick L, Downar J, et al. Resting-state connectivity biomarkers define neurophysiological subtypes of depression. Nature Medicine. 2016

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