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Towards a neurobiological view of depression

Search for diagnostic biomarkers and alterations by electroconvulsive therapy
PhD ceremony:Mr E.M. van Buel
When:June 30, 2017
Start:14:30
Supervisors:prof. dr. U.L.M. (Ulrich L. M.) Eisel, prof. dr. R.A. (Robert) Schoevers
Co-supervisors:dr. H.C. Klein, dr. F.J. Bosker
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Science and Engineering
Towards a neurobiological view of depression

The results of the research of Erin Van Buel suggest that a combination of 17 biomarkers can separate depressed patients from healthy controls with sufficient sensitivity and specificity.

The development of better diagnostic methods and more effective therapies can contribute to the reduction of depression-induced disability. Biomarkers, like for example protein or hormone levels in serum or urine, may potentially serve as an aid for diagnosing depression. To investigate if a combination of biomarkers can contribute to diagnosing depression Van Buel determined the levels of 40 potential serum or urine biomarkers in depressed patients and healthy control subjects. He subsequntly developed an algorithm to combine the results of these biomarkers in a so-called “BioDepression Score”. The results suggest that a combination of 17 biomarkers can separate depressed patients from healthy controls with sufficient sensitivity and specificity.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is one of the most effective treatments for depression. The mechanisms behind its antidepressive effects are not entirely clear, but possibly modification of immune system activity plays a role. To gain more insight into the effect of ECT on the immune system, Van Buel investigated the effect of electroconvulsive seizures (ECS) on activity of microglia (the immune cells of the brain) in animal models for depression. The results are divergent: while some experiments show increased activity, other experiments fail to demonstrate an effect on microglial activity. This suggests that the effect of ECS on microglial activity is dependent upon certain additional factors.

In addition, Van Buel studied the mechanisms behind ECT-induced memory deficits, a common side effect of ECT. He found indications that inflammatory mechanisms and changes in the cholinergic neurotransmitter system play a role in the induction of memory deficits by ECT.