On inflammatory hypothesis of depression: what is the role of IL-6 in the middle of the chaos?

J Neuroinflammation. 2021 Feb 16;18(1):45. doi: 10.1186/s12974-021-02100-7.


Many patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) are reported to have higher levels of multiple inflammatory cytokines including interleukin 6 (IL-6). Recent studies both pre-clinical and clinical have advocated for the functional role of IL-6 in development of MDD and suggested a great potential for targeting this cytokine to open new avenues in pharmacotherapy of depression. The purpose of the present narrative review was to provide an integrated account of how IL-6 may contribute to development of depression. All peer-reviewed journal articles published before July 2020 for each area discussed were searched by WOS, PubMed, MEDLINE, Scopus, Google Scholar, for original research, review articles, and book chapters. Publications between 1980 and July 2020 were included. Alterations in IL-6 levels, both within the periphery and the brain, most probably contribute to depression symptomatology in numerous ways. As IL-6 acts on multiple differing target tissues throughout the body, dysregulation of this particular cytokine can precipitate a multitude of events relevant to depression and blocking its effects can prevent further escalation of inflammatory responses, and potentially pave the way for opening new avenues in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of this debilitating disorder.

Keywords: Cytokines; Interleukin-6; Major depressive disorder; Neuroinflammation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / immunology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / immunology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / immunology
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-6 / immunology
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism*


  • IL6 protein, human
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Interleukin-6