According to Dr. Andrew H. Miller, senior author of a new depression treatment study, targeting inflammation may be an effective treatment for depression.
“Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection or wounding,” Miller says. “However, when prolonged or excessive, inflammation can damage many parts of the body, including the brain.”
Previous studies have shown that depressed patients that have a high level of inflammation are less likely to respond well to the usual treatments for depression like antidepressants (Paxil, Effexor). For this reason, researchers wanted to see if blocking the inflammation could be helpful. The drug used for this study to curb the inflammation was infliximab, which treats both autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.
Infliximab was used to block the tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which is a key molecule in inflammation that has been proven to be higher in depressed patients. For the study, researchers analyzed data collected from participants who suffered from depression and didn’t seem to take well to antidepressants. For the study, one group of patients was given infliximab and the other group was given placebos. The results showed that there were no significant differences in terms of improvement for the depression symptoms for either group, but the depressed patients who had high levels of inflammation showed a more significant reaction to receiving infliximab when compared to those taking the placebo.
“The prediction of an antidepressant response using a simple blood test is one of the holy grails in psychiatry,” says Miller. “This is especially important because the blood test not only measured what we think is at the root cause of depression in these patients, but also is the target of the drug.”
These results may prove significant for depressed patients taking drugs like Paxil or Effexor that have high inflammation levels because the drugs have been known to cause not only suicidal thoughts and behavior, but also violent thoughts and behavior. The pills can also cause babies of women who take the drug while pregnant to be born with birth defects, including PPHN, oral clefts, spina bifida and heart, lung and brain defects.
“This is the first successful application of a biologic therapy to depression,” adds co-author Dr. Charles L. Raison. “The study opens the door to a host of new approaches that target the immune system to treat psychiatric diseases.”