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Peripheral blood cell immunophenotyping reveals distinct subgroups of inflamed depression

By Mary-Ellen Lynall, Lorinda Turner, Junaid Bhatti, Jonathan Cavanagh, Peter de Boer, Valeria Mondelli, Declan Jones, Wayne C. Drevets, Philip Cowen, Neil A. Harrison, Carmine M. Pariante, Linda Pointon, NIMA Consortium, Menna R. Clatworthy, E.T Bullmore

Posted 18 Jul 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/706309

Depression has been associated with increased inflammatory proteins but changes in circulating immune cells are less well defined. We used multi-parametric flow cytometry to investigate 14 subsets of peripheral blood cells in 206 cases of major depressive disorder (MDD) and 77 age- and sex-matched controls. There were significant case-control differences, by univariate and multivariate analysis: cases showed increased immune cell counts, especially neutrophils, CD4+ T cells and monocytes, and increased inflammatory proteins (C-reactive protein and interleukin-6). Within-group analysis demonstrated significant association between the severity of depressive symptoms and increased myeloid and CD4+ cell counts. MDD cases could be partitioned into two groups by forced binary clustering of cell counts: the inflamed depression group (N=81 out of 206; 39%) had increased monocyte, CD4+ and neutrophil counts, increased C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin 6 (IL-6), and was more depressed than the uninflamed majority of cases. Relaxing the presumption of a binary classification, data-driven clustering identified four subgroups of MDD cases: two of these subgroups (N=38 and N=100; 67% collectively) were associated with increased inflammatory proteins and more severe depression, but differed from each other in the relative weighting of myeloid and lymphoid cell counts. Case-control and within-group results were robust to statistical control for the potentially confounding effects of age, sex, BMI, recent infection status, and tobacco use. Peripheral blood immunophenotyping can be used to identify a candidate cellular biomarker of inflamed depression, and to further decompose that binary partition, suggesting that there is more than one mechanistic pathway underlying inflamed depression.

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