Systems Biology, Bioinformatics, and Biomarkers in Neuropsychiatry
Although neuropsychiatric (NP) disorders are among the top causes of disability worldwide with enormous financial costs, they can still be viewed as part of the most complex disorders that are of unknown etiology and incomprehensible pathophysiology. The complexity of NP disorders arises from their etiologic heterogeneity and the concurrent influence of environmental and genetic factors. In addition, the absence of rigid boundaries between the normal and diseased state, the remarkable overlap of symptoms among conditions, the high inter-individual and inter-population variations, and the absence of discriminative molecular and/or imaging biomarkers for these diseases makes difficult an accurate diagnosis. Along with the complexity of NP disorders, the practice of psychiatry suffers from a "top-down" method that relied on symptom checklists. Although checklist diagnoses cost less in terms of time and money, they are less accurate than a comprehensive assessment. Thus, reliable and objective diagnostic tools such as biomarkers are needed that can detect and discriminate among NP disorders. The real promise in understanding the pathophysiology of NP disorders lies in bringing back psychiatry to its biological basis in a systemic approach which is needed given the NP disorders' complexity to understand their normal functioning and response to perturbation. This approach is implemented in the systems biology discipline that enables the discovery of disease-specific NP biomarkers for diagnosis and therapeutics. Systems biology involves the use of sophisticated computer software "omics"-based discovery tools and advanced performance computational techniques in order to understand the behavior of biological systems and identify diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers specific for NP disorders together with new targets of therapeutics. In this review, we try to shed light on the need of systems biology, bioinformatics, and biomarkers in neuropsychiatry, and illustrate how the knowledge gained through these methodologies can be translated into clinical use providing clinicians with improved ability to diagnose, manage, and treat NP patients.