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
as well as a mentor for fellow trainees through helping lead F-Troop,
a grantsmanship workshop for fellowship applicants.
look forward to many more great successes as Jennifer continues on her career
asked Jennifer to tell us about her research which is related to the
Dance With Inflammation”
published in Discover Magazine this
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
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
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
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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