Drugs that Relieve Inflammation Could Address Difficult-to-Treat Depression, New Study Found

By Helen Holmes on September 04, 2012

Inflammation, the body’s natural response to wound or infection, could be targeted to relieve individuals with difficult-to-treat depression, a new study found.

Researchers from the Emory University examined the effects of using anti-inflammatory drugs to people with severe depression symptoms, with the goal of determining whether blocking inflammation would be helpful to those who have difficult-to-treat depression or only to those with high levels of inflammation.

To find out, they administered infliximab to the study participants who all had major depression and were moderately resistant to traditional treatments.  Infliximab is one of the newest biologic drugs that are used to treat inflammatory and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. The drug works by mimicking the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response to block the tumour necrosis factor (TNF) which is the key molecule that has been shown to increase in some individuals with depression. Some of the participants had a non-active placebo treatment instead of taking infliximab.

Prior the experiment, the researchers measured the inflammation levels of each participant through blood sampling,

Blocking inflammatory responses to alleviate depression

The researchers found no significant improvement in the depression symptoms between infliximab and the placebo treatment as a whole. However, when they looked into the participants with severe inflammation, they found that these individuals responded much better to the drug than to the placebo treatment.

According to Charles L. Raison, MD, the study author, this was the first successful application of a biologic therapy to treat depression. He is now an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University Of Arizona College Of Medicine in Tucson.

Inflammation is a crucial factor of the body’s healing response. This process involves various defensive mechanisms in the area or part of the body that is injured or being attacked. However, inflammation can be very powerful and could potentially damage the cells, and lead to illnesses. Inflammation causes the release of cytokines – naturally occurring chemicals that work as signal cells of the immune system. When the brain is attacked by infection, trauma, stress, or poison, it releases cytokines which then affect one’s mood.

The study has also opened up the door to new approaches that involved targeting the immune system to treat psychiatric diseases, added Dr Raison. 


Source of this article:

A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Tumor Necrosis Factor Antagonist Infliximab for Treatment-Resistant Depression, JAMA

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