Inflammation as a cause of depression | Charles Raison

Inflammation as a cause of depression | Charles Raison


– [Charles]: Yeah, so it’s interesting. You know, when people began to realize back
in the 80s that there was this link between the brain and the immune system that was more
profound than we originally thought, right, I mean, originally, people thought the immune
system was down to dealing with infection and the brain was about behavior. Now, of course, we know that they’re really
one system. People thought about it in terms of immune
suppression, you know. I mean, I think so many things were lost from
the lives of people with depression that have sort of made thematic sense to think that
your immune functioning might be lost too. So it was really quite a shock in the 90s
when assays got better, and we begin to realize that if you measured inflammatory markers,
so these are chemicals like cytokines that get kicked up when you get the flu or something
like that. Then when you looked at those sort of chemicals,
they were actually elevated in depressed people. This was shown sort of again and again. And then we began to realize that if you were
exposed to these chemicals, you were likely to get depressed. So some of the research that we did, and many
other people did, beginning about 2000 was with drugs like interferon. So there’s a thing called interferon alpha
which was used somewhat in cancer, but a great deal for many years to treat Hepatitis C.
It’s a chemical your body makes that basically turns on inflammation. You know, if I were to take you and inject
a bunch of interferon alpha into your arm, within an hour you’d be feeling sick. You’d have a fever. You’d feel, you know, crappy, and you’d
wanna lay down. It activates all these inflammatory chemicals
in your body. Turns out that if people do that to themselves
on a repeated basis for something like curing Hepatitis C, a very significant proportion
of them become depressed. Many become like really clinically depressed:
suicidal, hopeless, helpless. – [Rhonda]: At long term? – [Charles]: Oh, well, long term while you’re
getting the treatment. The interesting thing is that the vast bulk
of people recover pretty much completely within a couple weeks of stopping it. So it really is the sort of drug, if you’re
constantly exposed to inflammatory stimuli at a high level, you know, people get exhausted,
depressed, or sleep gets messed up. Yeah, unfortunately, there are actually a
number of data points suggesting that some people do have long term, you know, sort of
mood disturbances after a chronic bout of inflammation from interferon. We know it from other studies, sort of population
studies, that if you have episodes of inflammation earlier in life, so for instance, if you have
an autoimmune condition, or if you have bad infections, you have the kind of infections
that land you in the hospital, you’re significantly more likely to subsequently develop significant
major depression. But significant schizophrenia and other disorders
too. So it looks like there’s something about
chronic inflammatory activation that induces changes in the brain and body that tee you
up for depression. In fact, we can talk about it. We know a lot about what those changes are. So there was this convergence of data suggesting
that, yeah, that inflammation, the sorts of acute, especially acute reactions your body
does to dangerous pathogens, that those chemicals induce depression. Now we and others were some of the first suggests
that it may in fact, there may be an evolutionary advantage to inflammation inducing depression. We can talk about that, but the fact that
those things are linked, is pretty clear.

One thought on “Inflammation as a cause of depression | Charles Raison”

  1. Hmm. I had surgery for an umbilical hernia and got hit by a tsunami of depression about week later, it lasted six months. No complications from the surgery.

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