Major depressive disorder (MDD) has been associated with dysregulated immune systems and impaired T cell function, but data on depression-related alterations in the levels of immunomodulatory growth factors are scarce. In order to further clarify the mechanisms underlying immune system dysregulation in depressed subjects, we examined the associations between MDD and serum levels of two immunomodulatory growth factors, interleukin (IL)-7 and granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF), in 122 subjects (MDD with long-term symptomatology, n=61; controls, n=61). The MDD subjects had lowered levels of IL-7. In a model adjusted for age, gender and body mass index, subjects in the lowest tertile of IL-7 had a 3.4-fold increased likelihood for MDD (p=0.010). Further adjustments for sleep disturbances, alcohol use, smoking, and metabolic syndrome did not alter these findings. Moreover, the exclusion of subjects with rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, or the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or oral corticosteroids only slightly attenuated the findings. The G-CSF levels did not differ between the two groups. The lowering of the serum levels of IL-7, a regulator of T cell homeostasis, in MDD subjects may underlie the depression-related impaired T cell function.
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