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Immunity in Young Adults with Major Depressive Disorder

CITATION: Schleifer, Steven J,  Keller, Steven E,  Bartlett, Jacqueline A,  Eckholdt, Haftan M,  Delaney, Beverly R. (1996). Immunity in young adults with major depressive disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 153(4), 477.   

ABSTRACT:   A range of immune measures in young adults with major depression is assessed. Major depression in young adults is associated with alterations in aspects of the immune system primarily involving natural killer cells.  An association between depression and altered immunity has been suggested by many studies, although the findings have not been consistently demonstrated (1, 2). Differences between studies may relate to the patient subgroups investigated. In a study of 91 patients with unipolar major depression, we found no overall mean differences between the patients and 91 matched control subjects in mitogen-induced lymphocyte proliferation, lymphocyte subsets, and natural killer (NK) cell activity (3). There were, however, significant age-related differences between the depressed patients and control subjects in mitogen responses and in the number of CD4+ lymphocytes. The data were consistent with lower CD4+ and mitogen responses in older adults with major depression (3, 4) but no change or possibly greater mitogen responses and more CD4+ cells in younger depressed adults (3, 5).

In an attempt to clarify whether depressed young adults have either no changes in immune activity or increased activity, a new group, restricted to young adults with unipolar major depression, was tested by using immune methodology identical to that used in the earlier studies. In addition, surface markers for NK cells and additional lymphocyte subsets were included. The immune assessment included enumeration of lymphocytes, T and B cells, and T lymphocyte subsets; and assessment of NK cell activity and mitogen-induced lymphocyte proliferation. The range of immune measures, unlike most studies of immunity in major depression that have been restricted to one or several immune measures, permitted determination of whether concurrent changes in quantitative and functional aspects of the immune system occur in young adults with major depression.

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