Acute experimental changes in mood state regulate immune function in relation to central opioid neurotransmission: a model of human CNS-peripheral inflammatory interaction

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Although evidence shows depressed moods enhance risk for somatic diseases, molecular mechanisms underlying enhanced somatic susceptibility are ill-defined. Knowledge of these molecular mechanisms will inform development of treatment and prevention strategies across comorbid depressive and somatic illnesses. Existing evidence suggests that interleukin-18 (IL-18; an IL-1 family cytokine) is elevated in depression and implicated in pathophysiology underlying comorbid medical illnesses. We previously identified strong associations between baseline IL-18 and μ-opioid receptor availability in major depressive disorder (MDD) volunteers. Combined with the evidence in animal models, we hypothesized that experimental mood induction would change IL-18, the extent proportional to opioid neurotransmitter release. Using the Velten technique in a [11C]carfentanil positron emission tomography neuroimaging study, we examined the impact of experimentally induced mood (sad, neutral) on plasma IL-18 and relationships with concurrent changes in the central opioid neurotransmission in 28 volunteers (healthy, MDD). Results showed mood induction impacted IL-18 (F2,25 = 12.2, P<0.001), sadness increasing IL-18 (T27 = 2.6, P = 0.01) and neutral mood reducing IL-18 (T27 = -4.1, P<0.001). In depressed volunteers, changes in IL-18 were more pronounced (F2,25 = 3.6, P = 0.03) and linearly proportional to sadness-induced μ-opioid activation (left ventral pallidum, bilateral anterior cingulate cortices, right hypothalamus and bilateral amygdala). These data demonstrate that dynamic changes of a pro-inflammatory IL-1 superfamily cytokine, IL-18, and its relationship to μ-opioid neurotransmission in response to experimentally induced sadness. Further testing is warranted to delineate the role of neuroimmune interactions involving IL-18 in enhancing susceptibility to medical illness (that is, diabetes, heart disease and persistent pain states) in depressed individuals.

Molecular Psychiatry (2016) 21, 243-251; published online 18 August 2015

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