Blood plasma B vitamins in depression and the therapeutic response to electroconvulsive therapy

Brain Behav Immun Health. 2020 Mar 28;4:100063. doi: 10.1016/j.bbih.2020.100063. eCollection 2020 Apr.


A growing body of research has indicated a role for B vitamins in depression, with some previous studies suggesting that B vitamin status in patients with depression can impact on antidepressant response. Here we aimed to investigate B vitamin plasma concentrations in medicated patients with depression (n ​= ​94) compared to age- and sex-matched healthy controls (n ​= ​57), and in patients with depression after electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in a real-world clinical setting. Our results show that nicotinamide (vitamin B3), N1-methylnicotinamide (vitamin B3 metabolite), and pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (PLP; vitamin B6) concentrations were significantly reduced in patients with depression compared to controls. The Cohen's d effect sizes for nicotinamide, N1-methylnicotinamide, and PLP were moderate-large (-0.47, -0.51, and -0.59, respectively), and likely to be of clinical relevance. Functional biomarkers of vitamin B6 status (PAr index, 3-hydroxykynurenine: hydroxyanthranilic acid ratio, 3-hydroxykynurenine: xanthurenic acid ratio, and HKr) were elevated in depressed patients compared to controls, suggestive of reduced vitamin B6 function. Over 30% of the patient cohort were found to have low to deficient PLP concentrations, and exploratory analyses revealed that these patients had higher IL-6 and CRP concentrations compared to patients with PLP levels within the normal range. Treatment with ECT did not alter B vitamin concentrations, and B vitamin concentrations were not associated with depression severity or the therapeutic response to ECT. Overall, reduced plasma PLP, nicotinamide, and N1-methylnicotinamide concentrations could have wide ranging effects on pathways and systems implicated in depression. Further studies are required to understand the reasons why patients with depression present with low plasma B vitamin concentrations.

Keywords: CRP; Depression; Electroconvulsive therapy; IL-6; Kynurenine pathway; Nicotinamide; Pyridoxal 5′-phosphate; Vitamin B.