The macrophage theory of depression

Med Hypotheses. 1991 Aug;35(4):298-306. doi: 10.1016/0306-9877(91)90272-z.


Excessive secretion of macrophage monokines is proposed as the cause of depression. Monokines when given to volunteers can produce the symptoms necessary for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition Revised (DSM-III-R) diagnosis of major depressive episode. Interleukin-1 (IL-1) can provoke the hormone abnormalities linked with depression. This theory provides an explanation for the significant association of depression with coronary heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke and other diseases where macrophage activation occurs. The 3:1 female/male incidence of depression ratio is accounted for by estrogen's ability to activate macrophages. The extraordinary low rate of depression in Japan is consistent with the suppressive effect of eicosapentanoic acid on macrophages. Fish oil is proposed as a prophylaxis against depression and omega-6 fat as a promoter. Infection, tissue damage, respiratory allergies and antigens found in food are some of the possible causes of macrophage activation triggering depression.

MeSH terms

  • Arteriosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Arteriosclerosis / psychology
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macrophage Activation
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Monokines / metabolism
  • Monokines / physiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Monokines