Are there indirect effects of infection that can cause depression?

Answered by: Brian Fallon

What person, when hit with the flu, has not experienced amotivation, debilitating fatigue, reduced sex drive, irritability, and anorexia? These are depression-like symptoms that are a common concomitant of infection.

A series of studies over the last decade have demonstrated that immune activation as a consequence of bacterial or viral infections can induce symptoms of depression in both humans and animals. This is thought to be due to the direct effect of pro-inflammatory cytokines, as these produce depression-like symptoms in humans and animals.

Also of interest is that when patients are being treated with cytokines (such as interferons) for diseases such as hepatitis C, they will often experience an array of significant depressive symptoms, including tearfulness, reduced sexual drive, sleep disturbance, anorexia, and psychomotor retardation.

Therefore, it is clear that infections themselves can cause mood disorders indirectly through the stimulation of the immune cascade.

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Brian Fallon, M.D., M.P.H., M.Ed.
Director, Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center  

Brian A. Fallon, MD, MPH, is the director of the Center for Neuroinflammatory Disorders and Biobehavioral Medicine and director of the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center at Columbia University.

A graduate of Harvard College, he obtained his M.D. degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, as well as a master's degree in public health epidemiology from Columbia University.

He did his medical internship at Columbia University Medical Center and research training and an NIH fellowship in biological psychiatry at Columbia Presbyterian Medical ...
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