Major depression is linked to inflammation of the brain.
People experiencing clinical depression have 30% higher brain inflammation, the recent research found.
The more depressed people were, the greater the levels of inflammation.
Professor Jeffrey Meyer, who led the research, said:
“This finding provides the most compelling evidence to date of brain inflammation during a major depressive episode.
Previous studies have looked at markers of inflammation in blood, but this is the first definitive evidence found in the brain.”
The brain typically protects itself through inflammation, but too much can be harmful.
The inflammation may generate some of the symptoms of depression, including:
- loss of appetite,
- low mood,
- and sleep problems.
For the study, the researchers scanned the brains of 20 people with depression and compared them to 20 healthy controls.
Inflammation was greatest among those who were depressed.
Professor Meyer said:
“This discovery has important implications for developing new treatments for a significant group of people who suffer from depression.
It provides a potential new target to either reverse the brain inflammation or shift to a more positive repair role, with the idea that it would alleviate symptoms.”
One potential way of helping to treat depression is by using anti-inflammatories.
Professor Meyer warned, however, that brain inflammation isn’t the whole story:
“Depression is a complex illness and we know that it takes more than one biological change to tip someone into an episode.
But we now believe that inflammation in the brain is one of these changes and that’s an important step forward.”
An expanding group of studies has linked depression to brain inflammation:
- Major Depression: This New Type Could Account For One-Third of Sufferers
- Depression Breakthrough: Blood Test Predicts Correct Treatment
The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry (Setiawan et al., 2014).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Shiny brain image from Shutterstock