Scientists Develop Blood Test for Mood Disorders

Dr. Alexander B. Niculescu and his team have developed an RNA biomarker blood test for mood disorders Source: IU School of Medicine

Scientists have developed a blood test, based on RNA biomarkers, that can diagnose mood disorders and assess their severity.

1 in 4 individuals will likely suffer from a mood disorder during their lifetime. This highly debilitating condition can often lead to suicide. However, the lack of objective tests can make it difficult for doctors to diagnose these disorders. Thus, resulting in cases getting misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed. Moreover, current treatment options are not individualized and do not work for everyone. Now, a breakthrough study by researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine has brought doctors one step closer to diagnosing and treating mood disorders. Led by Dr Alexander B. Niculescu, the team has developed an RNA biomarker blood test for mood disorders. Through the blood test, researchers plan to apply a precision medicine approach to treating psychiatric disorders.

This is part of our effort to bring psychiatry from the 19th century into the 21st century. To help it become like other contemporary fields such as oncology. Ultimately, the mission is to save and improve lives.

Professor Alexander B. Niculescu, Indiana University School of Medicine

The new blood tests are based on Dr Niculescu’s team’s previous work where they identified blood biomarkers that track suicidality and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The newly developed test not only detects the severity of a patient’s depression but also their risk of developing bipolar disorder.

4 Years and 300 Participants Later

Development of the RNA biomarker test took over 4 years. Researchers recruited more than 300 participants; all of whom had psychiatric disorders and various medical co-morbidities.

Researchers first followed the participants for a period of time. During this they assessed the changes in mood and correlated it with the change in blood biomarkers with each mood. They then cross-referenced and validated their candidate biomarkers with previously documented ones. 26 key biomarkers were then identified and tested in a cohort of patients with severe depression or mania. Lastly, researchers tested the biomarkers in additional cohorts to assess whether they can predict how ill the person is or might become in the future. Through their approach, researchers showed how to match patients with specific medications based on the biomarkers in their blood.

Through this work, we wanted to develop blood tests for depression and for bipolar disorder, to distinguish between the two, and to match people to the right treatments

Professor Alexander B. Niculescu, Indiana University School of Medicine

Moreover, Dr. Niculescu’s team also discovered a link between circadian rhythm genes and mood disorders. Thus, providing an explanation for seasonal affective disorder.

According to researchers, the study is an important step towards developing individualized treatment for those suffering from mood disorders.


Le-Niculescu, H., Roseberry, K., Gill, S.S. et al. Precision medicine for mood disorders: objective assessment, risk prediction, pharmacogenomics, and repurposed drugs. Mol Psychiatry (2021).


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