Background: Inflammatory cytokines are implicated in the pathophysiology of depression. In rodents, systemically administered inflammatory cytokines induce depression-like behavior. Similarly in humans, therapeutic interferon-alpha induces clinical depression in a third of patients. Conversely, patients with depression also show elevated pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Objectives: To determine the neural mechanisms underlying inflammation-associated mood change and modulatory effects on circuits involved in mood homeostasis and affective processing.
Methods: In a double-blind, randomized crossover study, 16 healthy male volunteers received typhoid vaccination or saline (placebo) injection in two experimental sessions. Mood questionnaires were completed at baseline and at 2 and 3 hours. Two hours after injection, participants performed an implicit emotional face perception task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Analyses focused on neurobiological correlates of inflammation-associated mood change and affective processing within regions responsive to emotional expressions and implicated in the etiology of depression.
Results: Typhoid but not placebo injection produced an inflammatory response indexed by increased circulating interleukin-6 and significant mood reduction at 3 hours. Inflammation-associated mood deterioration correlated with enhanced activity within subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sACC) (a region implicated in the etiology of depression) during emotional face processing. Furthermore, inflammation-associated mood change reduced connectivity of sACC to amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and superior temporal sulcus, which was modulated by peripheral interleukin-6.
Conclusions: Inflammation-associated mood deterioration is reflected in changes in sACC activity and functional connectivity during evoked responses to emotional stimuli. Peripheral cytokines modulate this mood-dependent sACC connectivity, suggesting a common pathophysiological basis for major depressive disorder and sickness-associated mood change and depression.