Inflammation as a therapeutic target for depression

Professor Ed Bullmore, Director of Research and Development at CPFT, recently addressed an expert audience at Cardiff University on the topic of ‘inflammation as a therapeutic target for depression’.

Inflammation as a therapeutic target for depression
08 January 2018

Prof Bullmore highlighted how there are many causes of inflammation, including everything from obesity and low grade infections (such as gum disease) to stress, and there is robust evidence showing a link between stress and depression.

“There is irrefutable evidence now to suggest that depression is associated with increased levels of inflammatory proteins in the blood,” explained Prof Bullmore.

“We also look for over-expression of innate immune genes in the blood. There are many known interactions between genes, which speaks to the idea that the immune system really is a ‘system’. Immune abnormalities that we can expect to find in depression and psychosis will not be a single ‘smoking gun’ (i.e. one protein, one gene) but much more likely to be a disturbance in a system of interrelated genes.”

“Inflammation can have effects on large scale systems that we can measure with scanning,” Prof Bullmore continued. “It can impact neurons; but how do peripheral inflammatory signals get across the blood-brain barrier to do this? One way is porosity (holes) in the barrier large enough to allow through proteins or cells.

“It is easy to see how neuronal mechanisms could change behaviour, and a targeted drug could be an anti-depressant. The problem with this traditional approach from a drug development perspective is that these targets – by virtue of being embedded in the brain – are very inaccessible. We lack biomarkers before we try out the drug.”

Prof Bullmore believes that, if we switch our gaze to a more novel and different class of mechanisms in the immune system, we could imagine finding mechanistically specific biomarkers peripherally that we could use to target treatments.

“Immunology is everywhere,” Prof Bullmore continued, who is also Head of Cambridge University’s Department of Psychiatry. “It’s pervasive. It’s involved in almost every disease process. Immunological therapeutics have already been successful in cancer, multiple sclerosis and other disorders – so this is an area where industry is knowledgeable and confident. There are many drugs already out there that could be repurposed into psychiatry.

“Immunology finds a new way of explaining things we already know. There is not yet really good quality clinical trial data to show if placing this basic science into neuro-immunology is going to work for patients as too few trials have so far been done.

“If we can find ways to block these inflammatory cycles, perhaps we can make people less stressed or less depressed.”

Hosted by the University’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute (NMHRI) at Cardiff University's flagship Hadyn Ellis Building, Professor Bullmore presented to a full house. Professor Jeremy Hall, Director and Research Theme Lead at NMHRI, introduced Professor Bullmore’s lecture.

The event brought together key figures from the new Hodge Centre for Neuropsychiatric Immunology, which was launched in 2016 to unite experts in exploring how the brain’s immune system impacts neuro-conditions.

This article has been reproduced with the permission of Cardiff University. Prof Bullmore's full presentation is available on their website here.



Contact details
For more information please contact:
Adrian Ient
Communications Manager
E adrian.ient@cpft.nhs.uk 
T 01223 219470

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

T 01223 219400 (open 8:30am to 5pm)
F 01480 398501

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