Annual Research Review: Neuroimmune network model of depression: a developmental perspective

featured ACAMH papers
Bringing you some selected Open Access journal papers from our portfolio; The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (JCPP), Child and Adolescent Mental Health journal (CAMH), and JCPP Advances.

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‘Annual Research Review: Neuroimmune network model of depression: a developmental perspective’

Open Access paper from the JCPP

Depression is a serious public health problem, and adolescence is an ‘age of risk’ for the onset of Major Depressive Disorder. Recently, we and others have proposed neuroimmune network models that highlight bidirectional communication between the brain and the immune system in both mental and physical health, including depression. These models draw on research indicating that the cellular actors (particularly monocytes) and signaling molecules (particularly cytokines) that orchestrate inflammation in the periphery can directly modulate the structure and function of the brain. In the brain, inflammatory activity heightens sensitivity to threats in the cortico-amygdala circuit, lowers sensitivity to rewards in the cortico-striatal circuit, and alters executive control and emotion regulation in the prefrontal cortex. When dysregulated, and particularly under conditions of chronic stress, inflammation can generate feelings of dysphoria, distress, and anhedonia. This is proposed to initiate unhealthy, self-medicating behaviors (e.g. substance use, poor diet) to manage the dysphoria, which further heighten inflammation. Over time, dysregulation in these brain circuits and the inflammatory response may compound each other to form a positive feedback loop, whereby dysregulation in one organ system exacerbates the other. We and others suggest that this neuroimmune dysregulation is a dynamic joint vulnerability for depression, particularly during adolescence. We have three goals for the present paper. First, we extend neuroimmune network models of mental and physical health to generate a developmental framework of risk for the onset of depression during adolescence. Second, we examine how a neuroimmune network perspective can help explain the high rates of comorbidity between depression and other psychiatric disorders across development, and multimorbidity between depression and stress-related medical illnesses. Finally, we consider how identifying neuroimmune pathways to depression can facilitate a ‘next generation’ of behavioral and biological interventions that target neuroimmune signaling to treat, and ideally prevent, depression in youth and adolescents.

Authors: Robin Nusslock, Lauren B. Alloy, Gene H. Brody, Gregory E. Miller

First published: 01 March 2024

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