Activation of the inflammatory response system:
A new look at the etiopathogenesis of major depression

van West D, Maes M.
Clinical Research Center for Mental Health (CRC-MH),
Antwerp, Belgium.
Neuroendocrinol Lett 1999;20(1-2):11-17


Major depression is accompanied by various direct and indirect indicators of a moderate activation of the inflammatory response system (IRS). Increased production of proinflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-1 (IL-1), IL-6 and interferon (IFNgamma), may play a crucial role in the immune and acute phase response in depression. Lower serum zinc and changes in the erythron are indirect indicators of IRS activation in depression. The reciprocal relationships between IRS activation and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis hyperactivity, alterations in HP thyroid (HPT)-axis function and the availability of tryptophan to the brain led us to hypothesize that these neuroendocrine changes in depression are indicators of IRS activation and that a combined dysregulation of the IRS, the turnover of serotonin (5-HT) and the HPA-axis is an integral component of depression. The IRS activation model of depression provides an explanation for the psycho-social (external stress) as well as organic (internal stress) etiology of major depression. Antidepressive treatments with various antidepressive agents, including SSRIs, tricyclic and heterocyclic antidepressants, have in vivo and in vitro negative immunoregulatory effects, suggesting that their antidepressant efficacy may be attributed, in part, to their immune effects.
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