Inflammatory and neurodegenerative pathways in depression: a new avenue for antidepressant development?

Curr Med Chem. 2011;18(2):245-55. doi: 10.2174/092986711794088353.


The latest advancement in neurobiological research provided an increasing evidence that inflammatory and neurodegenerative pathways play a relevant role in depression. Preclinical and clinical studies on depression highlighted an increased production of inflammatory markers, such as interleukin (IL)-1, IL-6, tumor necrosis factor-α and interferon- α and γ. On the other hand, acute and chronic administration of cytokines or cytokine inducers were found to trigger depressive symptoms. According to the cytokine hypothesis, depression would be due to a stress-related increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines that, in turn, would lead to increased oxidative and nitrosative brain damage and to indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase (IDO) induction, with production of tryptophan (TRP) catabolites along the IDO pathway (TRYCATs) and consequent reduced availability of TRP and serotonin (5-HT). Cytokines would also play a role in the onset of the glucocorticoid resistance, underlying the overdrive of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Therefore, the activation of the inflammatory and neurodegenerative pathways would lead to the brain damage observed in depression through both reduced neurogenesis and increased neurodegeneration. Besides the 5-HT system, other targets, possibly within the I&ND pathways, should be considered for the future treatment of depression: cytokines and their receptors, intracellular inflammatory mediators, IDO, TRYCATs, glucocorticoid receptors, neurotrophic factors may all represent possible therapeutic targets for novel antidepressants. In addition, it should be also clarified the role of the existing anti-inflammatory drugs in the treatment of depression, and those compounds with the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties should be examined either as monotherapy or adjunctive therapy. In conclusion, the molecular inflammatory and neurodegenerative pathways might provide new targets for antidepressant development and might be crucial to establish a rational treatment of depression aimed, hopefully, to its causal factors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / immunology*
  • Depressive Disorder / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase / metabolism
  • Neurogenesis
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tryptophan / metabolism


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Indoleamine-Pyrrole 2,3,-Dioxygenase
  • Serotonin
  • Tryptophan