Background: The increasing number of available genotypes for genetic studies in humans requires more advanced techniques of analysis. We previously reported significant univariate associations between gene polymorphisms and antidepressant response in mood disorders. However the combined analysis of multiple gene polymorphisms and clinical variables requires the use of non linear methods. Methods: In the present study we tested a neural network strategy for a combined analysis of two gene polymorphisms. A Multi Layer Perceptron model showed the best performance and was therefore selected over the other networks. One hundred and twenty one depressed inpatients treated with fluvoxamine in the context of previously reported pharmacogenetic studies were included. The polymorphism in the transcriptional control region upstream of the 5HTT coding sequence (SERTPR) and in the Tryptophan Hydroxylase (TPH) gene were analysed simultaneously. Results: A multi layer perceptron network composed by 1 hidden layer with 7 nodes was chosen. 77.5 % of responders and 51.2% of non responders were correctly classified (ROC area = 0.731 - empirical p value = 0.0082). Finally, we performed a comparison with traditional techniques. A discriminant function analysis correctly classified 34.1 % of responders and 68.1 % of non responders (F = 8.16 p = 0.0005). Conclusions: Overall, our findings suggest that neural networks may be a valid technique for the analysis of gene polymorphisms in pharmacogenetic studies. The complex interactions modelled through NN may be eventually applied at the clinical level for the individualized therapy.
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