Researchers at the UK’s University of Cambridge have highlighted the anti-depressive effects of new anti-inflammatory drugs, usually prescribed to treat autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.
Certain types of anti-inflammatory drugs could have positive side effects on the symptoms of depression, according to new research from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge.
“About a third of patients who are resistant to antidepressants show evidence of inflammation,” said Dr Golam Khandaker, who led the study.
The researchers analyzed data from 20 clinical trials concerning the use of anti-inflammatory drugs — anti-cytokine drugs, in particular — to treat various inflammatory autoimmune diseases.
This type of drug was found to have antidepressant effects, compared to a placebo tested in seven clinical trials.
Note that these particular drugs are different from widely available anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen. They are a specific type of drugs called anti-cytokine monoclonal antibodies and cytokine inhibitors.
When exposed to an infection or a virus — like flu or a stomach bug, for example — the body’s immune system gets to work on controlling and eradicating the infection. During this process, immune cells flood the blood stream with proteins called cytokines. This process becomes systematic, in the absence of any particular infection, in cases of inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and Crohn’s disease.
Previous work by the University of Cambridge team established that children with high levels of cytokines are at greater risk of developing depression and psychosis in adulthood. In other words, the immune system — particularly chronic low-grade systemic inflammation — could have an impact on mental health. Cytokines are also known to block the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus in people suffering from stress or depression.
This new study suggests that certain symptoms of depression and stress could be treated by reducing the immune system activity that leads to inflammation. This could be achieved by offering cytokine inhibitor drugs to people suffering from depression and not responding to conventional anti-depressant drugs.
These types of drugs are currently under development. Further clinical trials are required to study their effects on patients with depression who don’t suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases.
The study is published in the journal “Molecular Psychiatry.”