Cytokine-induced depression during IFN-alpha treatment: the role of IL-6 and sleep quality

Brain Behav Immun. 2009 Nov;23(8):1109-16. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2009.07.001. Epub 2009 Jul 15.


Depressive symptoms, poor sleep quality, and systemic markers of inflammation (e.g., interleukin (IL)-6) are frequently associated. Interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha) therapy results in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in some people, offering the possibility to elucidate the relationship of MDD to sleep and inflammation during treatment. In particular, delineating the temporal relations among these factors could help inform their causal relationships. To this end, a cohort of 95 non-depressed hepatitis C patients was followed prospectively for four consecutive months during IFN-alpha therapy. We found that higher pre-treatment levels of circulating IL-6 predicted incidence of MDD (X(2)(1)=7.7; p<0.05). Time-lagged mixed-effect analyses supported uni-directional associations in which IL-6 predicted next month's PSQI scores (F(47,11.6)=78.4; p<0.0005), and PSQI scores predicted next month's depressive Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI) scores (F(16,22.6)=3.4; p<0.005). In addition, on any given month of treatment, IL-6 levels predicted BDI symptoms the following month (F(16,97.5)=7.3; p<0.0005), and conversely BDI predicted next month's IL-6 (F(14,7.4)=5.2; p<0.05) - providing evidence for a positive feedback relationship between depressive symptoms and systemic inflammation. These data provide further evidence that high levels of inflammation and poor sleep quality may be risk factors for IFN-alpha induced depression. Furthermore, these findings highlight the complex temporal relationships that exist among sleep, depression, and inflammation, and support the need for further prospective investigations to elucidate the dynamics that underlie depression during IFN-alpha treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Antiviral Agents / adverse effects
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / chemically induced*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Hepatitis C / drug therapy
  • Interferon-alpha / adverse effects*
  • Interleukin-6 / blood*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Interleukin-6