Targeting Inflammation Could Provide More Precise Care for Depressed Patients

Inflammation in the body may be the cause of depression in the brain for some patients. Recent research suggests that around 30% of depressed patients have elevated inflammation, and clinical trial data suggest that targeting and treating the inflammation could provide more precise care.

A recent study published in Molecular Psychiatry and led by Éimear M. Foley, a Ph.D. student at the University of Bristol's MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, found that counts of eight types of immune cells, such as B cells and T cells, were increased in depression compared to those in the healthy comparison group without depression.[0] The research suggests that changes to different components of the immune system, both the innate and adaptive immune response, may play a role in causing depression.[1]

A research team led by A. Leslie Morrow, PhD, the John Andrews Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology in the UNC School of Medicine, found that brexanolone works within the body by inhibiting the key systemic inflammatory pathways that are associated with depression.[2] The new finding is monumental in that it suggests that post-partum depression (PPD) is likely caused, at least in part, by inflammation.[2]

The research suggests that only a subset of depressed patients – roughly 30 percent – have elevated inflammation, which is also associated with poor responses to antidepressants. And while antidepressants are commonly prescribed, only 30% of patients on them are able to beat depression.[3]

Data from 27 published scientific articles regarding 19 different immune cell types in adults with and without a depression diagnosis were systematically searched and pooled by researchers from two databases.[1] By increasing the sample size and combining the results of multiple studies, more definitive conclusions can be reached.[1]

The study cast a big doubt on the efficacy of antidepressants, and the findings suggest that anti-inflammatory treatments should target only patients with elevated inflammation and not be used as a one-size-fits-all approach.[4] Most clinical trials are not designed to compare inflammation levels of patients, but analyses run post-hoc suggest that anti-inflammatories have the largest effect on depressed patients with inflammation.[3]

The new findings suggest that inflammation in the body may be the cause of depression in the brain for some patients. Targeting and treating the inflammation could provide more precise care, and it is important to note that not everyone with increases in these immune cell types will develop a depressive disorder.[1]

0. “Depression Linked to Immune Response in Some People” Neuroscience News, 1 Mar. 2023,

1. “Depression linked to immune response in some people” Medical Xpress, 1 Mar. 2023,

2. “Researchers uncover mechanisms of brexanolone and the role of inflammation in post-partum depression” EurekAlert, 20 Feb. 2023,

3. “Inflammation of the body may explain depression in the brain” The Washington Post, 23 Feb. 2023,

4. “Researchers Identify An Unexpected Cause Behind Depression” NDTV, 26 Feb. 2023,

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