In a new study from Vanderbilt University, researchers found that increased depression polygenic scores are linked to increased white blood cell count, highlighting the importance of the immune system in depression.
Despite a wide understanding of depression as a psychiatric disorder, depression’s underlying biological effects are still poorly understood.
In the study, the team tested two groups—people who had depression and people who did not, but were at high genetic risk for developing depression.
They found a strong connection between depression polygenic scores and white blood cell count.
They also found that even having a high genetic risk for depression was enough to contribute to an elevated level of white blood cells.
The researchers’ results showed a feedback loop in which people who are at a higher genetic risk for depression also have a higher baseline level of inflammation.
If a person develops depression, that further increases the biomarkers related to inflammation.
The team says the link between depression polygenic scores and white blood cell count was very strong.
People with higher polygenic scores for depression had a higher white blood cell count, but the number was still considered in the ‘normal’ range.
This suggests that sustained, but not abnormal, activation of the immune system may be contributing to depression.
Their findings also suggest that the association between depression polygenic scores and increased white blood cell count are bidirectional.
The study creates an exciting opportunity to think about a new class of anti-depressive therapies focused on lowering pro-inflammatory markers.
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The study is published in JAMA Psychiatry. One author of the study is Lea Davis, Ph.D.
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