Immune Cell Changes Can Be Caused by Depressive Disorders

Depression is characterized by symptoms such as loss of interest, joylessness, a lack of motivation, and increased fatigability. Depression is a mental condition that affects an estimated 3.8% of the population worldwide, standing at around 5% between adults.

Low-grade inflammation and increased glucocorticoid production are common pathophysiological hallmarks of depressive disorders, according to research. The researchers from the Technische Universität Dresden, the University of Zurich, and the Max Planck Institutes for the Science of Light and the Max-Planck-Zentrum für Physik und Medizin Erlangen report their findings in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Is there a relation between mental health and physical changes in the body?

They discovered for the first time a link between depressive disorders and mechanical changes in blood cells in their study, which appears in the journal Translational Psychiatry. In order to do this, the researchers conducted a cross-sectional case-control study employing image-based morpho-rheological characterisation of unmanipulated blood samples, which allowed them to perform real-time deformability cytometry (RT-DC).

There were a total of 69 pre-screened individuals who were at high risk for depressive disorders and 70 matched healthy controls who were included and clinically evaluated using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview, a clinical interview for psychiatric disorders that is widely recognized around the world.

The primary blood cell types were identified and morpho-rheological properties such as cell size and cell deformability of each cell were measured using the artificial intelligence approach of deep learning, which was applied to over 16 million photographs of blood cells.

The findings of the study

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As a result, the investigators discovered that peripheral blood cells in individuals with depressive illnesses were more deformable when compared to control people, although cell size was unaffected. Individuals who had suffered from persistent depressive disorder over the course of their lives had increased cell deformability in monocytes and neutrophils, whereas erythrocytes were more deformable in those who were currently suffering from persistent depressive disorder.

Additionally, lymphocytes were more deformable in persons who were currently suffering from a depressive condition. According to the researchers’ findings, depressive disorders, and in particular persistent depression disorders that last for more than two years, are connected with greater deformability of blood cells, which is the first time this has been demonstrated.

While all main blood cells tend to exhibit greater deformability, lymphocytes, monocytes, and neutrophils are the ones that are most harmed by this condition. This shows that mechanical alterations in immune cells occur in depressive illnesses, which might be responsible for the development of a prolonged immunological response in the first place.

The finding of this pathomechanism may lead to the development of novel therapeutic options in the future, which may be able to restore defective cell function by enhancing the mechanical processes of the cells themselves.

Why is it important to research the biological side of mental health?

The findings of the study, according to the first author Dr. Andreas Walther, who conducted the research at the Chair of Biopsychology at the Technical University of Dresden but is now working at the Institute of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at the University of Zurich, are significant because they will help to advance both biological and psychological therapies that will treat depressive disorders more efficiently and sustainably in the long term:

“We are working in parallel on research into pharmacological therapies to improve a dysfunctional biology as well as psychological therapies to improve dysfunctional cognitive and emotional processes. Indeed, in my opinion, only a holistic approach can understand and efficiently treat this complex disorder and hopefully prevent much suffering in the future.”

Fernanda Avila

Fernanda Avila is a freelance writer who's passionate about providing accurate and helpful mental health content for readers. She believes sharing information can help raise awareness and improve society wellbeing.

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