Peripheral cytokine levels and response to antidepressant treatment in depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Mol Psychiatry. 2020 Feb;25(2):339-350. doi: 10.1038/s41380-019-0474-5. Epub 2019 Aug 19.


Predicting antidepressant treatment response has been a clinical challenge for major depressive disorder (MDD). The inflammation hypothesis of depression suggests that cytokines play a key role in the pathophysiology of MDD and alterations in peripheral cytokine levels are associated with antidepressant treatment outcome. Present meta-analysis aimed to examine the association between baseline peripheral cytokine levels and the response to antidepressant treatment and to evaluate whether changes of cytokine levels were associated with the response to antidepressant treatment in patients with MDD. Human-based studies published in any language in peer-reviewed journals were systematically searched from the PubMed, Embase and Web of Science databases, from inception up to October 2018. The search terms included cytokine, depressive disorder and antidepressant and their synonyms. Case-control or case-case studies reporting on levels of IL-1β, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, IL-12, CRP, TNF-α, IFN-γ, GM-CSF, MIP-1α, and Eotaxin-1 in patients with MDD based on validated depression scales both before and after antidepressant treatment were included. Of 7408 identified records, 44 studies met inclusion. Standardized mean differences in each cytokine were evaluated, and random-effects meta-analyses were performed. MDD patients who responded to antidepressant treatment had lower baseline IL-8 levels than the nonresponders (Hedge's g = -0.28; 95%CI, -0.43 to -0.13; P = 0.0003; FDR = 0.004). Antidepressant treatment significantly decreased levels of TNF-α (Hedge's g = 0.60; 95%CI, 0.26-0.94; P = 0.0006; FDR = 0.004) only in responders, and responders showed significantly more decreased TNF-α levels compared with nonresponders (P = 0.046). These findings suggested that alterations in peripheral cytokine levels were associated with antidepressant treatment outcomes in MDD. Further investigations are warranted to elucidate sources of heterogeneity and examine the potentiality of using inflammatory cytokines as novel predictive markers for the pharmacological treatment of MDD.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Biomarkers, Pharmacological / blood*
  • Cytokines / analysis*
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Depression / drug therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / drug therapy
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Biomarkers, Pharmacological
  • Cytokines