In a new study, researchers from Stanford University found that people with the major depression disorder have low blood levels of a substance called acetyl-L-carnitine,
Depression, also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is the most prevalent mood disorder in the United States and the world, affecting 8-10 percent of the general population at any given time.
Every fourth person likely to experience the condition over the course of a lifetime. It’s the No. 1 reason for absenteeism at work, and one of the leading causes of suicide.
Identifying biological markers in major depressive disorder is a critical step for the development of effective mechanism-based medications.
In addition, People with severe or treatment-resistant depression, or whose bouts of depression began earlier in life, need more effective treatment methods.
Naturally produced in the body, acetyl-L-carnitine is also widely available in drugstores, supermarkets and health food catalogs as a nutritional supplement.
Previous research has shown that acetyl-L-carnitine has rapid and enduring antidepressant-like effects in animals that lack the molecule.
In the study, the researchers found that acetyl-L-carnitine levels were decreased in people with depression compared with healthy people.
In subsequent analyses, the degree of acetyl-L-carnitine deficiency was linked to both the severity and age of onset of depression.
In addition, the lowest acetyl-L-carnitine levels were found in patients with treatment-resistant depression, whereby the history of emotional neglect and being female predicted decreased acetyl-L-carnitine levels.
These findings suggest that acetyl-L-carnitine may be a biomarker to help depression diagnosis.
They point the way to a new class of antidepressants that could be freer of side effects and faster-acting than those in use today, and that may help patients for whom existing treatments don’t work or have stopped working.
Natalie Rasgon, MD, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, shares senior authorship of the study with Bruce McEwen, Ph.D., professor and chief of the Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University in New York City.
The lead author is Carla Nasca, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in McEwen’s lab.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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