Childhood inflammatory markers and intelligence as predictors of subsequent persistent depressive symptoms: a longitudinal cohort study

Psychol Med. 2018 Jul;48(9):1514-1522. doi: 10.1017/S0033291717003038. Epub 2017 Nov 15.


Background: To identify developmental sub-groups of depressive symptoms during the second decade of life, a critical period of brain development, using data from a prospective birth cohort. To test whether childhood intelligence and inflammatory markers are associated with subsequent persistent depressive symptoms.

Methods: IQ, a proxy for neurodevelopment, was measured at age 8 years. Interleukin 6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein, typical inflammatory markers, were measured at age 9 years. Depressive symptoms were measured six times between 10 and 19 years using the short mood and feelings questionnaire (SMFQ), which were coded as binary variable and then used in latent class analysis to identify developmental sub-groups of depressive symptoms.

Results: Longitudinal SMFQ data from 9156 participants yielded three distinct population sub-groups of depressive symptoms: no symptoms (81.2%); adolescent-onset symptoms (13.2%); persistent symptoms (5.6%). Lower IQ and higher IL-6 levels in childhood were independently associated with subsequent persistent depressive symptoms in a linear, dose-response fashion, but not with adolescent-onset symptoms. Compared with the group with no symptoms the adjusted odds ratio for persistent depressive symptoms per s.d. increase in IQ was 0.80 (95% CI, 0.68-0.95); that for IL-6 was 1.20 (95% CI, 1.03-1.39). Evidence for an association with IL-6 remained after controlling for initial severity of depressive symptoms at 10 years. There was no evidence that IL-6 moderated or mediated the IQ-persistent depressive symptom relationship.

Conclusions: The results indicate potentially important roles for two distinct biological processes, neurodevelopment and inflammation, in the aetiology of persistent depressive symptoms in young people.

Keywords: CRP; IL-6; IQ; depression; depressive symptoms; immunopsychiatry; inflammation; intelligence; latent class analysis; longitudinal study; neurodevelopment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis
  • Child
  • Depression / blood
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / blood*
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Intelligence*
  • Interleukin-6 / blood
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • IL6 protein, human
  • Interleukin-6
  • C-Reactive Protein