The Ethical Ramifications of Biomarker Use for Mood Disorders

  • Shaheen E. LakhanEmail author
  • Karen F. Vieira


Over the past 20 years, researchers have made considerable progress in the search for diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers of psychiatric disorders, including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Advocates of this research contend that identifying biomarkers will aid in the diagnosis and treatment of these disorders, as well as in the development of more effective psychiatric medications. However, the concept of biomarker testing generates significant ethical concerns, including the testing of non-symptomatic individuals, the potential for health insurance or employment discrimination, and the collection and use of genetic information. Genetic biomarkers are especially controversial since heredity information is uniquely personal – it can reveal an individual’s likely medical future; divulge personal information about one’s parents, siblings and children; and has a history of being used to stigmatize and victimize individuals. Some legal protections are already in place; however, they are far from comprehensive. For example, the US Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 only encompasses tests that analyze DNA, RNA, or chromosomal changes. This means that tests for non-genetic biomarkers, like those based on protein expression or post-translational modifications, are exempt. In the rush toward developing etiological screening tools, it is pertinent to remember that patients are at the heart of the medical profession, not their DNA or protein profile. Any new diagnostic tools should confer a significant benefit to patients without promoting confusion, discrimination, or stigma.


Ethics Biomarker Psychiatric disorders Depression Anxiety Genetic Protein Epigenetic Diagnosis Pharmacogenomics 





ATB-binding cassette subfamily B member 1


Adrenocorticotropic hormone


Brain derived neurotrophic factor


Breast cancer gene


Corticotropin releasing factor


Deoxyribonucleic acid


DNA methyltransferase


Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders


γ-aminobutyric acid receptor


Generalized anxiety disorder-7


Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act


Glucocorticoid receptor


Genome wide analysis


Human immunodeficiency virus


Hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal


Mood disorder questionnaire


Multidrug resistance 1


Mineralcorticoid receptor


Messenger RNA


NEO personality inventory


Neuropeptide Y


Nuclear receptor subfamily 3, group C, member 1


Patient health questionnaire


Purified protein derivative


Ribonucleic acid


Structured clinical interview for DSM-IV


Single nucleotide polymorphisms


Serotonin reuptake inhibitors




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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation (GNIF)Los AngelesUSA

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