Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland report they have discovered plasma protein-based biomarkers capable of identifying adolescents at risk of developing mental health issues. The study appears in the journal Nature Mental Health.
“We searched for changes in the levels of plasma proteins that could potentially help to identify adolescents at risk of developing mental health issues,” wrote the researchers. “Our candidate biomarkers were associated with key enriched biological pathways, including immune responses, blood coagulation, neurogenesis and neuronal degeneration.”
In the work carried out in the research group of Katja Kanninen, PhD, the team used self-reported Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) scores to evaluate mental health risk in participants aged between 11 and 16 years. Blood sample analyses showed that 58 proteins were significantly associated with the SDQ score. Bioinformatic analyses were used to identify the biological processes and pathways linked with the identified plasma protein biomarker candidates.
Key enriched pathways related to these proteins included immune responses, blood coagulation, neurogenesis, and neuronal degeneration. The study relied on a symbolic regression algorithm to create predictive models that best separate low and high SDQ score groups.
The researchers will further their study with more specific investigations of the potential biomarkers for identification of individuals at risk of mental health problems, opening a new avenue for advancements in adolescent mental health care, say the researchers.