Immune system dysfunction is implicated in the pathophysiology of major depression, and is hypothesized to normalize with successful treatment. We aimed to investigate immune dysfunction in melancholic depression and its response to ECT.
55 melancholic depressed patients and 26 controls participated. 33 patients (60%) were referred for ECT. Blood samples were taken at baseline, one hour after the first ECT session, and 48h after ECT series completion.
At baseline, melancholic depressed patients had significantly higher levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6, and lower levels of the regulatory cytokine TGF-β than controls. A significant surge in IL-6 levels was observed one hour after the first ECT session, but neither IL-6 nor TGF-β levels normalized after completion of ECT series. Seventy per cent (n=23) of ECT recipients showed clinical response and 42% (n=10) reached remission. Neither IL-6 nor TGF-β changes correlated with clinical improvement following ECT. No significant changes in IL-10, TNF-α and CRP levels were found in relation to melancholia or response to ECT.
As a naturalistic study, some potential confounders could not be eliminated or controlled, including medication use.
Melancholic depressed patients demonstrated a peripheral increase in IL-6 and reduction in TGF-β, which did not normalize despite clinical response to ECT. These findings may be consistent with emerging hypotheses of the role of inflammation in mediating neurotrophin expression. The implications of chronic inflammation in the melancholic depressed population for future medical health, particularly cardiovascular risk, are largely unknown and warrant further investigation.