Inflammatory cytokines influence measures of white matter integrity in Bipolar Disorder

J Affect Disord. 2016 Sep 15:202:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.05.047. Epub 2016 May 24.


Background: Bipolar Disorder (BD) is associated with elevated biomarkers of cell-mediated immune activation and inflammation and with signs of widespread disruption of white matter (WM) integrity in adult life. Consistent findings in animal models link WM damage in inflammatory diseases of the brain and serum levels of cytokines.

Methods: With an exploratory approach, we tested the effects of 22 serum analytes, including pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines and neurotrophic/hematopoietic factors, on DTI measures of WM microstructure in a sample of 31 patients with a major depressive episode in course of BD. We used whole brain tract-based spatial statistics in the WM skeleton with threshold-free cluster enhancement of DTI measures of WM microstructure: axial (AD), radial (RD), and mean diffusivity (MD), and fractional anisotropy (FA).

Results: The inflammation-related cytokines TNF-α, IL-8, IFN-γ and IL-10, and the growth factors IGFBP2 and PDGF-BB, shared the same significant associations with lower FA, and higher MD and RD, in large overlapping networks of WM fibers mostly located in the anterior part of the brain and including corpus callosum, cingulum, superior and inferior longitudinal fasciculi, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculi, uncinate, forceps, corona radiata, thalamic radiation, internal capsule.

Conclusions: Higher RD is thought to signify increased space between fibers, suggesting demyelination or dysmyelination. The pattern of higher RD and MD with lower FA suggests that inflammation-related cytokine and growth factor levels inversely associate with integrity of myelin sheaths. The activated inflammatory response system might contribute to BD pathophysiology by hampering structural connectivity in critical cortico-limbic networks.

Keywords: Bipolar Disorder; Cytokines; Diffusion tensor imaging; Inflammation; White matter.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anisotropy
  • Bipolar Disorder / immunology*
  • Bipolar Disorder / pathology*
  • Cytokines / blood*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / immunology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / pathology
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Capsule / immunology
  • Internal Capsule / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • White Matter / immunology*
  • White Matter / pathology*


  • Cytokines