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Prevention and early intervention using blood, plasma, or urine biomarkers can save adolescent lives.
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Markers May Gauge Mental Health Risk in Adolescents

Certain plasma proteins may indicate the onset and risk of various mental health disorders 

University of Eastern Finland
Published:Aug 01, 2023
|2 min read
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Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland have identified plasma protein-based biomarkers capable of identifying adolescents at risk of developing mental health issues. The results were published in Nature Mental Health.

An estimated 10–20 percent of adolescents struggle with mental health conditions, with the majority remaining undiagnosed and untreated. New, early indicators of mental health problems are urgently needed as they could revolutionize early detection and, in the future, the prevention of mental health problems in young individuals.

In the study carried out in the research group of Katja Kanninen, PhD, professor at the University of Eastern Finland, the researchers used self-reported strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ) scores to evaluate mental health risk in 91 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 employed a novel, symbolic regression algorithm to create predictive models that best separate low and high SDQ score groups.

According to Kanninen, plasma biomarker studies in mental disorders are an emerging field. “Alterations in plasma proteins have been previously associated with various mental health disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, and bipolar disorders. Our study supports these earlier findings and further revealed that specific plasma protein alterations could indicate a high risk for mental dysfunction in adolescents.”

According to the researchers, this pilot study will be followed by more specific investigations of the potential biomarkers to identify individuals at risk of mental health problems, opening a new avenue for advancements in adolescent mental health care.

- This press release was originally published on the University of Eastern Finland website