Inflammatory illness: Why the next wave of antidepressants may target the immune system

The underlying principle that the immune system is important in mental illness is regaining momentum, particularly indepression. A study published in July looking at blood samples from 113 patients with severe depression reported that of 90 genes that were found to be overexpressed in this group of individuals, many were linked to the immune system and the body’s response to infection. Scientists are narrowing in on inflammatory proteins to use as biomarkers that could help to predict which antidepressant treatment will work best for an individual patient. And there are at least a half-dozen ongoing clinical trials that are testing anti-inflammatory drugs to treat depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Some evidence goes as far as to suggest that inflammation is perhaps not only a contributor to mental illness, but a cause in and of itself: “You’re going right after the heart of the matter if you go after inflammation itself,” says psychiatrist Andrew Miller, director of the Behavioral Immunology Program at the Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Miiler is a faculty member in the NS program.