Inflammation and depressive phenotypes: Evidence from medical records from over 12 000 patients and brain morphology

Maria Ironside, Roee Admon, Stephanie A. Maddox, Malavika Mehta, Samuel Douglas, David P. Olson, Diego A. Pizzagalli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BackgroundPreclinical and human studies suggest an association between chronic inflammation and the development of depressive behaviors. This is proposed to occur through downstream effects of inflammatory cytokines on neuroplasticity, neurogenesis and neurotransmitter function, although the neural correlates remain poorly understood in humans.MethodsIn Study 1, structural magnetic resonance imaging and serum inflammatory cytokine data were analyzed from 53 psychiatrically healthy female participants. Correlational analyses were conducted between interleukin-6 (IL-6) and volume in a priori regions implicated in the pathophysiology of major depressive disorder (MDD). In Study 2, medical data [including serum inflammatory acute phase reactants (C-reactive protein)] were analyzed for 12 589 participants. Participants were classified as having (n = 2541) v. not having (n = 10 048) probable lifetime MDD using phenotypes derived using machine-learning approaches. Non-parametric analyses compared inflammation between groups, whereas regression analyses probed whether inflammation predicted probable MDD classification while accounting for other variables.ResultsIn Study 1, significant negative correlations emerged between IL-6 and hippocampal, caudate, putamen and amygdalar volume. In Study 2, the MDD group showed a higher probability of elevated inflammation than the non-MDD group. Moreover, elevated inflammation was a significant predictor of probable MDD classification.ConclusionsFindings indicate that inflammation is cross-sectionally related to reduced volume in brain regions implicated in MDD phenotypes among a sample of psychiatrically healthy women, and is associated with the presence of probable MDD in a large clinical dataset. Future investigations may identify specific inflammatory markers predicting first MDD onset.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2790-2798
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number16
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Cambridge University Press.


  • Amygdala
  • C-reactive protein
  • IL-6
  • biomarker
  • depression
  • hippocampus
  • limbic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Applied Psychology


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