Depression, stress and immunological activation: the role of cytokines in depressive disorders

Life Sci. 1998;62(7):583-606. doi: 10.1016/s0024-3205(97)00990-9.


Traditionally, both stress and depression have been associated with impaired immune function and increased susceptibility to infectious and neoplastic disease. However over the last number of years a large body of evidence suggests that major depression is associated with signs of immunological activation. Moreover it has been suggested that cytokine hypersecretion may be involved in the aetiology of depressive disorders. The present article reviews the evidence from both clinical and experimental studies which implicates immunological activation and particularly hypersecretion of cytokines in the onset and maintenance of depressive illness. Both clinical and experimental studies indicate that stress and depression are associated with increased circulating concentrations of cytokines such as IL-1beta, IL-6 and gamma-IFN and positive acute phase proteins, and hyperactivity of the HPA-axis. In addition, it has been reported that immunological activation induces "stress-like" behavioural and neurochemical changes in laboratory animals. Although for many years it has been suggested that stress acts a predisposing factor to depressive illness, the precise mechanisms by which stress-induced depressive symptoms occur are not fully understood. Nevertheless, behavioural changes due to stress have often been explained in terms of changes in neurotransmitter function in the brain. In the present article increased cytokine secretion is implicated as a mechanism whereby stress can induce depression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Depression / immunology*
  • Depressive Disorder / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Stress, Physiological / immunology*


  • Cytokines