Could Your Depression Actually be the Result of an Infectious Disease?

personGracen Schilling (12:00 Micro) found another article in Science Daily that interested her, describing the work of scientists at Stony Brook University. This research describes a causal link between major depressive disorder (MDD) and the presence of an infectious agent. Longtime BIO230 readers will of course recall the link I found a few semesters back which seems to show a link between MDD and a generalized immune response that might not have as important of a role in our defenses today; that is MDD outbreaks might be due to an evolutionary relic of our ability to fight off infection. And if you are depressed, eat some yogurt to make yourself feel better. Anyway, here is Gracen’s summary:

An article I found on Science Daily proposed a theory that has brought up a brand new way of thinking; could depression be a form of an infectious disease?  According to Turhan Canli, a professor of Psychology and Radiology and author in Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders, major depressive disorder (MDD) causation should be completely reevaluated to an infectious disease being the etiological agent.  Dr. Canli says that MDD is likely to be from a parasitic, bacterial, or viral infection based on the pathways of each of these microorganisms.   He argues that this is likely because first of all, people who have MDD have behaviors of illness like energy loss, which is very common in depression patients.  Dr. Canli’s studies have also shown that the inflammatory biomarkers of MDD suggest that depression is more likely an illness related problem.   Other studies have also shown that microorganisms like parasites, bacteria, and viruses can infect human hosts resulting in a shift in emotional behavior.  Since the shift of emotional behaviors is a huge factor of MDD, this is a plausible theory.  Dr. Canli’s third argument is that the human body is obviously an ecosystem for microorganisms and the role of viruses in the human genomes.   The arguments of the human body as an ecosystem for these microbes makes sense since us humans do have multiple microorganisms growing inside of us.  If these particular microorganisms flourish in the environment our body encases than their reproduction would definitely increase; likely causing an increase in symptoms and issues like MDD’s.  The role of the human genome is likely related in some way to the retroviruses found in us, which would be a plausible reason for the genetic passing of MDD.

MDD being caused by an infectious disease is also backed up by the role of medicine.  Dr. Canli suggests that since recurrence is very common and the medical treatments have remained consistent over time; research done on MDD obviously needs to broaden.  Since no simple aspects of MDD have been defined clearly, new research to improve treatment is very important.  With the high prevalence of MDD in the population today, it is obvious that even if this is not an infectious disease, the treatment methods still need to be reevaluated due to their faults.  Dr. Canli ends by suggesting that a great research step would be to conduct a large-scale study of depression in patients with controls and protocols for infectious diseases.  This would help conclude if MDD’s nature shows a correlation between depression and infectious disease possibly caused by any of the three microorganisms in which he found evidential reasoning towards having a role in depression.

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About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on November 19, 2014, in Guest Post. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Could Your Depression Actually be the Result of an Infectious Disease?.

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