Inflammation and Depression Linked

Posted onCategoriesFibromyalgia

Inflammation attacks the brain. That’s a no-brainer to anyone that’s battling an inflammation-inducing illness.  We all know the way it changes us, eroding the smart, determined, organized, able to leap tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound person we were… to a fuzzy, slow, overwhelmed, barely able to step over the cat without face-planting, person we are today.  Why exactly would something attack our brain causing diminished blood flow, IQ deficits, seizures and not have the ability to trigger anxiety, cause depression, smash libido, and even possibly cause suicidal thoughts?

In a previous blog I talked about studies showing inflammation and depression (and anxiety) can be linked in black and white.  A new study found a possible cause.

Brain Chemical may be the link between Inflammation and Depression

Lena Brundin, a professor of translational science and molecular medicine at Michigan State University and her team looked for inflammatory changes associated with symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts. They found that suicidal patients had higher levels of cytokines. Cytokines are something you hear a lot about these days, they are protein molecules associated with inflammation.

“We still were missing the link between inflammation and what was actually happening to the brain cells,” Brundin said.

They weren’t able to explain how inflammation could translate to depression, hopelessness and even suicidal thoughts or attempts.

To find out, Brundin and her colleagues started a new study.  They tested 100 Swedish adults for quinolinic acid (a compound known to be generated by inflammation and to have an effect on the brain, due to its similarities to the neurotransmitter glutamate).  Cerebrospinal fluid (that clear, yellowish liquid that cushions the brain and spinal cord) was extracted for testing.

  • About two-thirds of participants were tested right after hospitalization for a suicide attempt.
  • The rest of the participants were healthy.

Suicidal individuals had elevated levels of quinolinic acid in the fluid surrounding the central nervous system. The sicker the patient (the stronger the thoughts & urge to commit suicide) the higher the quinolinic acid level was in their spinal fluid.  This discovery could explain a missing link between inflammation and mental illness, said Brundin.
The results also showed decreased quinolinic acid levels among a number of patients who came back six months later, when their suicidal behavior had ended.

What could this mean?

The researchers didn’t compare the suicidal patients with severely depressed (but not suicidal) individuals, so it’s not clear whether quinolinic acid is linked only to depression w/ suicidal thoughts/attempts or has broader implications.  Either way: The research suggests a need to widen depression treatments beyond those used today, usually based around the neurotransmitter Serotonin, Brundin said.

How does this relate to autoimmune patients?

Quinolinic acid mimics glutamate. Glutamate plays a crucial role as the primary excitatory neurotransmitter powering the messages between neurons. We need glutamate but like anything, too much is a bad thing & causes excitotoxicity which can damage or kill nerve cells.

High glutamate levels shift the central nervous system towards seizure, Dr. Paul Cheney has long proposed that a shift towards seizure brought on by overstimulated, overly sensitive neurons explains the ‘wired but tired’ symptoms and sensory overload often experienced in patients.

“Our neurons (nerve cells) are sensing stimuli and firing when they should not. This causes amplification of sensory input. Light, noise, motion and pain are all magnified. (Something most autoimmune patients report as an issue). At the beginning of their illness, many patients report feeling exhausted, yet also strangely “wired.” The “wired” feeling is the slight shift towards seizure that occurs as a result of the excitatory neurotoxicity (of too much glutamate).” Carol Sieverlings

The discovery that quinolinic acid contributes to suicide or depression suggests that targeting this neurotransmitter could provide relief. Small studies have suggested ketamine, when injected into the bloodstream, can banish suicidal symptoms within hours. (Ketamine has anti-glutamate effects).

If the pharmaceutical industry can continue developing anti-glutamate medication, I think that might be a great hope for suicidal and depressive patients,” Brundin said

8 thoughts on “Inflammation and Depression Linked”

  1. Other notes to follow up my comment:

    Ketamine does abolish depression but only for a week.

    Brain on fire is a book I listened to on audio, highly recommend for anyone interested in how a virus, can trigger auto-immunity on the brain, and present as severe schizophrenia.

    Mayo clinic’s neuro-immunology dept. believes dysautonomia is auto-immunity against the CNS.

    Many patients with a child-hood history of strep (mine started at age 5/all documented and continues to present; i.e. getting tonsils out in 2 weeks), have auto-immune illnesses in their adulthood. Auto-antibodies in the brain??

    Documentary coming out about pandas soon, sure this will all be discussed: “Pandas A Real Life Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”

    1. Hi @CallieAndToby:disqus . Thanks for posting great information and links. You said this was in addition to another comment but I don’t see it, do you mind reposting it? I would love to see what you said.

      I’ve read reports that Ketamine abolished depression/suicidal thoughts (in some people) permanently but you mentioned only for a week. Is that from personal experience or based on information you’ve read? It’s interesting it helps at all I think, especially since it has anti-glutamate properties to it.

      I had strep all the time as a kid so I find your comments about that fascinating. Although I have never had it again since getting sick, (except maybe once but I had no symptoms it was just randomly “noticed”). I hadn’t read it was connected to autoimmune in adults.

      1. I typed out a really long comment to begin with and it showed it was submitted, sucks, it was really detailed. My mother and I have been researching this for the past 6 months b/c PANDAS fits right within this arena.

        Strep is what triggers PANDAS. The antibodies are created, cross the BBB (blood brain barrier) and the immune system starts to attack areas of the brain, specifically the basal ganglia, where ocd, tourette’s and eating disorder problems originate.

        My records, which I only recently obtained showed that I started getting strep at age 5, sometimes 4 x’s a year, I recently got it and even though I’ve been on abx for 3 months, my tonsils are still infected. Going to get them removed soon and ENT said adults almost always feel better once they’re gone.

        The best research on neuroinflammation and psychiatric illness is from NYU: ……for anyone interested, a tough read but my mom (RN) has been able to understand it.

        I was saying that this is all great but what about treatment? Susannah Cahalan (brain on fire – autoimmune encephalitis) had to do the following: PEX, Steroids iv, IVIG, and chemo to get well and it cost her insurance close to 1 million dollars. IVIG – they aren’t sure how it works but it reduces inflammation, helps eliminate antibodies and infections but insurance won’t cover it.

        Newest research is glutamate dysregulation is associated with: ocd, eating disorders… etc. etc. But there aren’t many options for that either. Ketamine is short acting, it’s an analgesic. The people who noticed it working were in hospitals after surgery and yes they said it only worked temporary for a week. It’s not a permanent fix. And how do you treat someone with anesthesia?

        Then there’s lamictal, anti-seizure, helps some people, didn’t help me and gave me bad side effects. Riluzole isn’t covered by insurance and costs $600.00/month. Memantine blocks glutamate but I got HORRIBLE side effects from it, there-in lies the other problem, what doctors understand this? Does anyone know how these meds work and how to deal with potential side effects?

        Psychiatrists are way behind and I haven’t met one that knows anything about the inflammation and they really don’t know how to use the glutamate drugs either.

        I think the only places doing this kind of research and treatment are: NYU, mayo (rochester) and Univ. of Penn – with a focus on auto-immune encephalitis. BUT they are using ivig, pex, chemo, etc. etc. And who can afford that????

        Still I hope we move forward in the research.

        Makes me wonder about all the dysautonomia, fatigue, PEM, insomnia that accompanies these disorders.

        1. Hi Christine, thanks for sharing this information. It is all so helpful. I am wondering what you mean by PEX? Have you had your strep titer tested as an adult, mine is always high, had strep a lot as a kid and tonsils were removed. You mentioned Mayo being one of the places that treat, is there a particular doctor you can recommend there? I have never found Mayo Rochester helpful for anything!!

          1. Well Mayo and Univ. of Penn and Duke treat “autoimmune encephalitis” or “anti-nmda” but I don’t know about the rest, honestly, I don’t have clue who treats this stuff……; that was part of my complaint, I think because it’s brand new research. I am just taking a stab in the dark with who I’m seeing, he’s a neuro-immunologist and also knows a lot about auto-immune dysautonomia, so I figure hopefully at least I’ll get help for the dys.

            There are doctors at NYU doing this kind of treatment, but I don’t know names, just from the research I’ve read. I’ve had a referral to nyu for 6 months and because they are so swamped they haven’t even read my records. I think the main people looking into this though are neurologists or neuro-immunologists.

            PEX – blood plasmapheresis.

            Yes strep titers always high, just had it 3 or 4 months ago. I don’t know why they never took out my tonsils as a kid, perhaps I wouldn’t be as sick as I am now had they…………….*&%$#

            I’m in the same boat, I have a pandas diagnosis and severe neuro-psychiatric illness that hasn’t responded to any psychiatric treatment for over a decade, but no-where to turn to get help. But like I said, insurance isn’t going to cover the ivig or pex, so there’s also the issue of me having no money (an issue many patients have).

            Sorry I can’t be of more help. Here’s the best research:


            What I did was email tons of doctors. The doctors at duke responded but they only do pediatric, did not get a response from NYU, one person (the one I’m going to see) at mayo responded. Wasn’t sure who to email at univ penn. But nice doctors will write back and that’s a start.

          2. @nancy What did you go to mayo for? What was your experience like?

            I’ve heard they are the best with dysautonomia so that was part of my motivation.

        2. Thank you for retyping your reply @CallieAndToby:disqus! There is nothing more annoying than going to all of that effort and the information isn’t saved. I’m so glad you reposted it because it’s fantastic information.

          I agree with you: few Drs understand how violently some of us react to vitamins and medications. It can be scary to feel like your own Dr doesn’t realize the effect these meds/vitamins can have on you. You really have to be forceful and speak up.

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