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Depression’s Dance

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The Interplay Between Inflammation and Depression

Author: Jennifer Parrott | Category: Of Interest | Neuroscience | Neuroscience | February 02, 2015

Jennifer Parrott is a fifth year Neuroscience track graduate student in the lab of Jason O’Connor, PhD, within the Department of Pharmacology. During her time in Dr. O’Connor’s laboratory, Jennifer has published two articles and has received an Individual National Research Service Award (NRSA) from the National Institute of Mental Health titled, “Impact of BDNF Expression on Neuroimmune Activation and Depressive-Like Behaviors”. Further, Jennifer’s passion for science expands beyond the laboratory. She is an active member of the science outreach initiative, TeenMOB as well as a mentor for fellow trainees through helping lead F-Troop, a grantsmanship workshop for fellowship applicants. We look forward to many more great successes as Jennifer continues on her career path.

We’ve asked Jennifer to tell us about her research which is related to the “Depression's Dance With Inflammation” published in Discover Magazine this past fall.

This article explains how inflammation could potentially play a key role in patients with depression and the impact this could have on treatment devolvement. Depression continues to be a global major health concern.

As such, biomedical research, including that conducted by many investigators here at the Health Science Center, strives toward examining alternate etiologies of depression with the goal of improving therapeutics. While investigations into the relationship between inflammation and depression are not new, this field of research, psychoneuroimmunology, has recently garnered a lot of interest (much to our lab’s benefit). As more studies are conducted in this field, they continue to highlight how inflammation can culminate in the development of depression.

A key point of this article is that anti-inflammatory treatment for patients with depression will only be beneficial if these patients have elevated inflammation. This is where the research I am conducting comes in.

As February is American Heart Awareness Month, this blog is timely. In a recent article the NIMH states, “Depression not only affects your brain and behavior-it affects your entire body. Depression has been linked with other health problems, including heart disease.” Heart disease, and other diseases like it, increases inflammation putting people at a higher risk for developing depression.

To model this phenomenon in the laboratory, we induce inflammation and measure depressive-like behaviors and cognitive impairments in mice. This model affords us the flexibility to manipulate the stimulus (inflammation) and response (behavior changes) relationship with the intent of better understanding the underlying mechanism.

More specifically, my dissertation project investigates the role of the kynurenine pathway of tryptophan metabolism in mediating depressive-like behaviors that result from inflammation. We hypothesize that the production of neuroactive kynurenine metabolites during inflammation in the brain contribute to depressive-like behavior development.

Our goal is to find a more effective way to treat patients who suffer from depression as a consequence of inflammation and disease. This article reminds me, a scientist, that there is an increased need for basic science to pursue these questions, as we are a long way from completing our goals while the field of psychoneuroimmunology persists in garnering attention and support.

However, our studies continue to push the bounds of conventional depression research in hopes of providing patients with more personalized treatment for depression.

For further reading, check out the Huffington Post article, "Could Depression Be Caused By Inflammation In The Brain?"  or Newsweek's "Study: Inflammation Causes Depression in Many Cases or research article "Role of Translocator Protein Density, a Market of Neuroinflammation, in the Brain During Major Depressive Episodes."

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