The complex role of the chemokine CX3CL1/Fractalkine in major depressive disorder: A narrative review of preclinical and clinical studies

Brain Behav Immun Health. 2024 Apr 28:38:100778. doi: 10.1016/j.bbih.2024.100778. eCollection 2024 Jul.


Evidence suggests that neuroinflammation exhibits a dual role in the pathogenesis of major depressive disorder (MDD), both potentiating the onset of depressive symptoms and developing as a consequence of them. Our narrative review focuses on the role of the chemokine fractalkine (FKN) (also known as CX3CL1), which has gained increasing interest for its ability to induce changes to microglial phenotypes through interaction with its corresponding receptor (CX3CR1) that may impact neurophysiological processes relevant to MDD. Despite this, there is a lack of a clear understanding of the role of FKN in MDD. Overall, our review of the literature shows the involvement of FKN in MDD, both in preclinical models of depression, and in clinical studies of depressed patients. Preclinical studies (N = 8) seem to point towards two alternative hypotheses for FKN's role in MDD: a) FKN may drive pro-inflammatory changes to microglia that contribute towards MDD pathogenesis; or b) FKN may inhibit pro-inflammatory changes to microglia, thereby exerting a protective effect against MDD pathogenesis. Evidence for a) primarily derives from preclinical chronic stress models of depression in mice, whereas for b) from preclinical inflammation models of depression. Whereas, in humans, clinical studies (N = 4) consistently showed a positive association between FKN and presence of MDD, however it is not clear whether FKN is driving or moderating MDD pathogenesis. Future studies should aim for larger and more controlled clinical cohorts, in order to advance our understanding of FKN role both in the context of stress and/or inflammation.

Keywords: Animal studies; Fractalkine (FKN); Human studies; Major depressive disorder; Neuroinflammation.