Research: RAVINDRAN and colleagues,

Listed in Issue 39


RAVINDRAN and colleagues, Department of Psychiatry, University of Ottawa, Ontario Canada write that there have been inconsistent results reported regarding circulating lymphocyte subsets in depression. The authors assessed lymphocyte subsets in order to establish whether immune alterations observed in depression might be related to neurovegetative symptoms.



Lymphocyte subsets were assessed in major depressive and dysthymic patients exhibiting either typical or atypical features, the latter characterised by mood reactivity and reversed neurovegetative features. Blood was collected from major depressive, atypical depressive, typical dysthymic or atypical dysthymic patients and from nondepressed controls. Circulating lymphocyte subsets (CD3, CD4, CD8, CD19, CD16/CD56) were determined using flow cytometry. Lymphocyte subsets were also determined following a 12-week course of antidepressants in a subset of patients.


Circulating natural killer (NK) cells were elevated in depressive illness and varied as a function of depressive subtype and sex. In males, NK cells were elevated to a greater extent in typical than in atypical depression and more so in major depressive than in dysthymic patients. Circulating NK cells were lower in women than in males and only in the typical major depressive patients did NK cells exceed those of the controls. Following successful pharmacotherapy, normalisation of NK cells occurred. T and B cell populations did not differ between the depressive subtypes and controls.


Depression may be associated with an elevated level of circulating NK cells. The neurovegetative features associated with depression, especially altered eating may contribute to elevated NK cells; however, the depressive affect itself also contributed in this respect. The relative contributions of these factors vary between male and females.


Ravindran AV et al. Circulating lymphocyte subsets in major depression and dysthymia with typical or atypical features. Psychosom Med 60(3): 283-9 May-Jun 1998.

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