Inflammation linked to weakened reward circuits in depression

About one third of people with depression have high levels of inflammation markers in their blood. New research indicates that persistent inflammation affects the brain in ways that are connected with stubborn symptoms of depression, such as anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure.

The results were published online in Molecular Psychiatry.

The findings bolster the case that the high-inflammation form of depression is distinct, and are guiding researchers’ plans to test treatments tailored for it.

Anhedonia is a core symptom of depression that is particularly difficult to treat, says lead author Jennifer Felger, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and Winship Cancer Institute. Dr. Felger is also a faculty member in the NS program.

“Some patients taking antidepressants continue to suffer from anhedonia,” Felger says. “Our data suggest that by blocking inflammation or its effects on the brain, we may be able to reverse anhedonia and help depressed individuals who fail to respond to antidepressants.”

Co-first author, research associate Zhihao Li, PhD is now at Shenzhen University. Other Emory co-authors include Andrew H. Miller, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and Winship Cancer Institute, Ebrahim Haroon, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, and Xiaoping Hu, PhD, professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory. Both Drs. Miller and Hu are faculty members in the NS program.

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