ErbB3 mRNA leukocyte levels as a biomarker for major depressive disorder

Elena Milanesi, Alessandra Minelli, Nadia Cattane, Annamaria Cattaneo, Cristina Mora, Alessandro Barbon, Alessandra Mallei, Maurizio Popoli, Vincenzo Florio, Andreas Conca, Stefano Bignotti, Massimo Gennarelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In recent years, the identification of peripheral biomarkers that are associated with psychiatric diseases, such as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), has become relevant because these biomarkers may improve the efficiency of the differential diagnosis process and indicate targets for new antidepressant drugs. Two recent candidate genes, ErbB3 and Fgfr1, are growth factors whose mRNA levels have been found to be altered in the leukocytes of patients that are affected by bipolar disorder in a depressive state. On this basis, the aim of the study was to determine if ErbB3 and Fgfr1 mRNA levels could be a biomarkers of MDD.Methods: We measured by Real Time PCR ErbB3 and Fgfr1 mRNA expression levels in leukocytes of MDD patients compared with controls. Successively, to assess whether ErbB3 mRNA levels were influenced by previous antidepressant treatment we stratified our patients sample in two cohorts, comparing drug-naive versus drug-free patients. Moreover, we evaluated the levels of the transcript in MDD patients after 12 weeks of antidepressant treatment, and in prefrontal cortex of rats stressed and treated with an antidepressant drug of the same class.Results: These results showed that ErbB3 but not Fgfr1 mRNA levels were reduced in leukocytes of MDD patients compared to healthy subjects. Furthermore, ErbB3 levels were not affected by antidepressant treatment in either human or animal models. Conclusions: Our data suggest that ErbB3 might be considered as a biomarker for MDD and that its deficit may underlie the pathopsysiology of the disease and is not a consequence of treatment. Moreover the study supports the usefulness of leukocytes as a peripheral system for identifying biomarkers in psychiatric diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number145
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Sep 18 2012


  • Biomarkers
  • ErbB3
  • Fgfr1
  • Leukocytes
  • Major Depressive Disorder MDD

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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