Repository logo

Metabolomic Biomarker Signatures for Bipolar and Unipolar Depression.

Published version

Repository DOI



Change log


Harrison, Scott J 
Rustogi, Nitin 
Olmert, Tony 
Barton-Owen, Giles 


IMPORTANCE: Bipolar disorder (BD) is frequently misdiagnosed as major depressive disorder (MDD) because of overlapping symptoms and the lack of objective diagnostic tools. OBJECTIVE: To identify a reproducible metabolomic biomarker signature in patient dried blood spots (DBSs) that differentiates BD from MDD during depressive episodes and assess its added value when combined with self-reported patient information. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This diagnostic analysis used samples and data from the Delta study, conducted in the UK between April 27, 2018, and February 6, 2020. The primary objective was to identify BD in patients with a recent (within the past 5 years) diagnosis of MDD and current depressive symptoms (Patient Health Questionnaire-9 score of 5 or more). Participants were recruited online through voluntary response sampling. The analysis was carried out between February 2022 and July 2023. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Patient data were collected using a purpose-built online questionnaire (n = 635 questions). DBS metabolites (n = 630) were analyzed using a targeted mass spectrometry-based platform. Mood disorder diagnoses were established using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. RESULTS: Of 241 patients in the discovery cohort, 170 (70.5%) were female; 67 (27.8%) were subsequently diagnosed with BD and 174 (72.2%) were confirmed as having MDD; and the mean (SD) age was 28.1 (7.1) years. Of 30 participants in the validation cohort, 16 (53%) were female; 9 (30%) were diagnosed with BD and 21 (70%) with MDD; and the mean (SD) age was 25.4 (6.3) years. DBS metabolite levels were assessed in 241 patients with depressive symptoms with a recent diagnosis of MDD, of whom 67 were subsequently diagnosed with BD by the Composite International Diagnostic Interview and 174 were confirmed as having MDD. The identified 17-biomarker panel provided a mean (SD) cross-validated area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUROC) of 0.71 (SD, 0.12; P < .001), with ceramide d18:0/24:1 emerging as the strongest biomarker. Combining biomarker data with patient-reported information significantly enhanced diagnostic performance of models based on extensive demographic data, PHQ-9 scores, and the outcomes from the Mood Disorder Questionnaire. The identified biomarkers were correlated primarily with lifetime manic symptoms and were validated in a separate group of patients who received a new clinical diagnosis of MDD (n = 21) or BD (n = 9) during the study's 1-year follow-up period, with a mean (SD) AUROC of 0.73 (0.06; P < .001). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: This study provides a proof of concept for developing an accessible biomarker test to facilitate the differential diagnosis of BD and MDD and highlights the potential involvement of ceramides in the pathophysiological mechanisms of mood disorders.



Humans, Female, Adult, Male, Bipolar Disorder, Depressive Disorder, Major, Mood Disorders, Diagnosis, Differential, Biomarkers

Journal Title

JAMA Psychiatry

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


American Medical Association (AMA)
This work was supported by Stanley Medical Research Institute (grant number 07R-1888) and Psyomics Ltd.