The Big Idea: Inflammation the culprit?
Individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder appear to have similarly elevated patterns of blood cytokine levels, according to Emory researchers. Cytokines are the key signaling molecules of the immune system. The results of the study, the first broad-based analysis of cytokines in all three disorders, were published online in Molecular Psychiatry. In reviewing 69 studies of acutely ill patients and 46 studies of chronically ill patients, researchers sought to better understand what was happening in the patients’ immune systems.
“We know the immune system is important when looking at psychiatric disorders, but no one had really looked at this by comparing several disorders in one study, or by focusing on the phase of illness,” says David Goldsmith, chief resident for the research track in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory. The researchers found there were elevated levels of certain cytokines in acute phases of all the disorders and some commonality in the chronic phase. For example, one inflammatory cytokine, interleukin-6, was found to be elevated in all three disorders in both acute and chronic phases of illness.
By comparing these levels across diseases, the researchers were able to determine that the immune system is likely involved in psychiatric disorders for some patients and that treatment options may need to be more personalized. “Ultimately these findings call for a need for more studies to determine exactly which individuals might benefit most from anti-inflammatory drugs,” says Goldsmith.