Inflammation May Be Linked to Depression

Could inflammation be the cause of severe depression? New research seems to indicate that systemic inflammation of various biological systems in the body has been associated with psychological depression.

Researchers theorize that because patients with chronic inflammation also have increased quantities of glutamate in the areas of the brain linked to motivation, there may be a link between the two.

In fact, by following the bio markers of inflammation, psychiatrists can determine which depressed patients will respond best to glutamate blocking medication to treat their depression. This puts an effective new tool in the hands of scientists searching for methods of treating depression. By understanding which inflammatory symptoms a depressed patient is exhibiting, psychiatrists can personalize individual treatments rather than apply a generalized one-size-fits-all approach which could potentially have adverse affects for some.

The Glutamate Connection

When the brain shows signs of inflammation, one obvious signal is the presence of excess glutamate. Under normal conditions glutamate aids neurons to exchange messages with one another by acting as a chemical delivery medium. But when glutamate accumulates in certain regions at higher than average levels it can become toxic to brain cells. 

While the levels of glutamate in a depressed person’s brain are not likely to be toxic, researchers still believe it plays a role in depression by affecting brain cells in more sensitive areas.

To explore this theory a study was designed around 50 participants, all of whom were depressed but were not taking any antidepressant medication at the time of the study. Each participant was tested for inflammation via a blood test which measured for C-reactive protein.

The brains of the depressed patients were then scanned with magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) equipment, which determined the quantity of glutamate levels in specific brain regions. These regions included the basal ganglia, a brain center linked to motor control, motivation, and decision making. Another biochemical, myo-inositol, was also measured because it indicates the health of brain cells.

The Findings

Results showed that higher glutamate and myo-inositol levels in the basal ganglia were directly associated to depressed patients’ self-reported levels of anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure. Another symptom included slower motor function, which was determined by measuring finger tapping speed.

The study concluded that patients with difficult-to-treat depression who also show signs of inflammation may respond to treatment with anti-inflammatory medications. Inflammation responds to natural remedies as well, and can be reduced through diet and stress relieving activities, such as meditation.

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