Dissecting major depression: The role of blood biomarkers and adverse childhood experiences in distinguishing clinical subgroups

Luisa Lo Iacono, Silvia Bussone, Diego Andolina, Renata Tambelli, Alfonso Troisi, Valeria Carola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The syndromic diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with individual differences in prognosis, course, treatment response, and outcome. There is evidence that patients with a history to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) may belong to a distinct clinical subgroup. The combination of data on ACEs and blood biomarkers could allow the identification of diagnostic MDD subgroups. Methods: We selected several blood markers (global DNA methylation, and VEGF-a, TOLLIP, SIRT1, miR-34a genes) among factors that contribute to the pathogenetic mechanisms of MDD. We examined their level in 37 MDD patients and 30 healthy subjects. ACEs were measured by the Parental Bonding Instrument and the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Results: We found significant differences between patients and healthy subjects in three biomarkers (TOLLIP, VEGF-a, and global DNA methylation), independently from the confounding effect of parental care received. By contrast, SIRT1 differences were modulated by quality of parental care. The lowest levels of SIRT1 were recorded in patients with active symptoms and low maternal/paternal care. miR-34a and SIRT1 levels were associated with MDD symptoms especially in early-life stressed patients. Limitations: Small sample size, no information on personality comorbidity and suicidal history, cross-sectional definition of remission, and lack of follow-up. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the levels of global DNA methylation, TOLLIP, and VEGF-a reflect pathophysiological changes associated with MDD that are independent from the long-term effects of low parental care. This study also suggests that SIRT1 may be an additional variable distinguishing the ecophenotype that includes MDD patients with exposure to ACEs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-360
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Childhood Trauma Questionnaire
  • Global DNA methylation
  • Major depressive disorder
  • MicroRNA-34a
  • Parental bonding instrument
  • SIRT1
  • VEGF-a

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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