In recent years, research into depression has honed in on treatments that fiddle with glutamate, a chemical in the brain that’s tied to neurological problems. The next step: Screening a patient’s blood for a certain protein that’ll indicate whether that patient is likely to respond to that type of treatment. Here’s what lead researcher Dr. Ebrahim Haroon of Emory University in Atlanta said about the findings, published Tuesday morning in Molecular Psychiatry.

What’s the problem with the generalized approach to treating depression that’s used now?

Patients get prescribed a certain medication, but it’s based on poor guidelines because no one knows who will respond to what. It’s very much trial and error with prescriptions, and trial and error takes time. But during that time, a lot of bad things can happen.

And what did your study pinpoint that might help better determine which treatments will work on which patients?

Our study found that high levels of, or increases in, a certain protein in the blood of patients with depression may increase amounts of a chemical called glutamate in the brain. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter, and at a healthy level, it facilitates communication between neurons. There are some medications that block glutamate, and they have antidepressant effects. So we can look at levels of that protein in the blood of patients to see if they will respond to treatments that block glutamate activity.

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