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Increased activity of peripheral immune cells is associated with a blunted reward reaction in the brains of patients with depression

Paper Title:

Peripheral immune cell reactivity and neural response to reward in patients with depression and anhedonia



Increased levels of peripheral cytokines have been previously associated with depression in preclinical and clinical research. Although the precise nature of peripheral immune dysfunction in depression remains unclear, evidence from animal studies points towards a dysregulated response of peripheral leukocytes as a risk factor for stress susceptibility. This study examined dynamic release of inflammatory blood factors from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) in depressed patients and associations with neural and behavioral measures of reward processing. Thirty unmedicated patients meeting criteria for unipolar depressive disorder and 21 healthy control volunteers were enrolled. PBMCs were isolated from whole blood and stimulated ex vivo with lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Olink multiplex assay was used to analyze a large panel of inflammatory proteins. Participants completed functional magnetic resonance imaging with an incentive flanker task to probe neural responses to reward anticipation, as well as clinical measures of anhedonia and pleasure including the Temporal Experience of Pleasure Scale (TEPS) and the Snaith-Hamilton Pleasure Scale (SHAPS). LPS stimulation revealed larger increases in immune factors in depressed compared to healthy subjects using an aggregate immune score (t49 = 2.83, p = 0.007). Higher peripheral immune score was associated with reduced neural responses to reward anticipation within the ventral striatum (VS) (r = −0.39, p = 0.01), and with reduced anticipation of pleasure as measured with the TEPS anticipatory sub-score (r = −0.318, p = 0.023). Our study provides new evidence suggesting that dynamic hyper-reactivity of peripheral leukocytes in depressed patients is associated with blunted activation of the brain reward system and lower subjective anticipation of pleasure.

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