Alterations of the serum N-glycan profile in female patients with Major Depressive Disorder

J Affect Disord. 2018 Jul;234:139-147. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.02.082. Epub 2018 Feb 27.


Background: Glycans are short chains of saccharides linked to glycoproteins that are known to be involved in a wide range of inflammatory processes. As depression has been consistently associated with chronic low-grade inflammation, we asked whether patients with Major Depressive Disorder show alterations in the N-glycosylation pattern of serum proteins that might be linked to associated changes in inflammatory processes.

Methods: In a study cohort of 21 female patients with an acute depressive episode and 21 non-depressed female control subjects aged between 50 and 69 years, we analyzed the serum N-glycan profile by DNA Sequencer Adapted-Fluorophore Assisted Carbohydrate Electrophoresis (DSA-FACE) and assessed the serum levels of interleukin (IL)- 6, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and C-reactive protein (CRP) by chemiluminescence immunoassays and nephelometry.

Results: Compared to controls, MDD patients showed significant differences in the serum levels of several N-glycan structures. Alterations in the serum N-glycan profile were associated with depressive symptom severity and exploratory analyses revealed that they were most pronounced in MDD patients with a history of childhood sexual abuse. Furthermore, MDD patients showed higher levels of IL-6 and a trend for higher CRP levels, which were also associated with similar alterations in the serum N-glycan profile as those characteristic for MDD patients.

Limitations: The relatively small sample size and the presence of potential confounders (e.g., BMI, smoking, medication).

Conclusion: The results offer the first evidence that specific differences in the N-glycosylation pattern of serum proteins constitute a so far unrecognized level of biological alterations that might be involved in the immune changes associated with MDD.

Keywords: Childhood sexual abuse; DSA-FACE; Inflammation; Major Depressive Disorder; Serum N-glycan profile.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / blood*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / complications
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / blood*
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Interleukin-6 / blood
  • Middle Aged
  • Polysaccharides / blood*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / blood


  • Biomarkers
  • Interleukin-6
  • Polysaccharides
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • C-Reactive Protein