Individual gut microbiome could dictate personalized, more effective depression treatments

The gut-brain connection remains a growing area of research in science and health spheres. Dr. Jane Foster, the first neuroscientist to find an association between gut microbes to anxiety in mice, is now teaming up with scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to unravel how the trillions of gut microbes in humans are related to mental health disorders.

UT Southwestern’s Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care (CDRC) regularly conducts research in both unipolar and bipolar depression. Their work is essential to understanding root causes and ways to treat these conditions. Unipolar depression, which is what most probably think about when they hear the term “depression,” describes a continuous dull and sad feeling. People with it generally have no interest in daily normal activities. Conversely, bipolar depression describes mood changes between those sad and dull feelings, and high energy manic phases.

Previously, Drs. Foster and Madhukar Trivedi worked together to identify any potential immune markers in blood samples to see the role that inflammation plays in depression severity. They also collected stool samples from participants in a longitudinal study called the Texas Resilience Against Depression study. If a sample from a participant with depression shows certain microbial markers that can serve as a target for certain therapies, it may help individualized care efforts improve in clinical mental health fields.

“People who are at risk for depression or diagnosed with depression are heterogeneous. So we want to use biology to understand the biomarkers that can help define the different clusters of people,” says Dr. Foster in a statement.

She believes that clinical research and care are very closely related and should be treated as such to provide the best quality care, which is why she joined this team. “That holistic approach is necessary if we are going to find better answers for people suffering with mental illness,” she adds.

For many, antidepressants either don’t help or even cause more harm, while only improving the state of some. Future efforts in this field would benefit greatly from tailoring care to specific biological needs.

“Antidepressants typically work for just around 40% of people. Other choices include cognitive behavioral therapy, deep brain stimulation, or even exercise and diet,” explains Dr. Foster. “By expanding on the individual patient’s profile, can we now improve the number of people that respond to a particular treatment?”

Foster published her findings in a perspective article in the journal Science.

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