Background: Depression is characterized by inflammation and cell-mediated immune (CMI) activation and autoimmune reactions directed against a multitude of self-epitopes. There is evidence that the inflammatory response in depression causes dysfunctions in the metabolism of 5-HT, e.g. lowering the 5-HT precursor tryptophan, and upregulating 5-HT receptor mRNA. This study has been undertaken to examine autoimmune activity directed against 5-HT in relation to CMI activation and inflammation.
Methods: 5-HT antibodies were examined in major depressed patients (n=109) versus normal controls (n=35) in relation to serum neopterin and lysozyme, and plasma pro-inflammatory cytokines (PIC), i.e. interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFα). Severity of depression was assessed with the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) and severity of fatigue and somatic symptoms with the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (FF) Rating Scale.
Results: The incidence of anti-5-HT antibody activity was significantly higher in depressed patients (54.1%), and in particular in those with melancholia (82.9%), than in controls (5.7%). Patients with positive 5-HT antibodies showed increased serum neopterin and lysozyme, and plasma TNFα and IL-1; higher scores on the HDRS and FF scales, and more somatic symptoms, including malaise and neurocognitive dysfunctions. There was a significant association between autoimmune activity to 5-HT and the number of previous depressive episodes.
Discussion: The autoimmune reactions directed against 5-HT might play a role in the pathophysiology of depression and the onset of severe depression. The strong association between autoimmune activity against 5-HT and inflammation/CMI activation is explained by multiple, reciprocal pathways between these factors. Exposure to previous depressive episodes increases the incidence of autoimmune activity directed against 5-HT, which in turn may increase the likelihood to develop new depressive episodes. These findings suggest that sensitization (kindling) and staging of depression are in part based on progressive autoimmune responses.
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