Chronic depression can cause deformed white blood cells, weakening the immune system

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DRESDEN, Germany — Depression is a mental health disorder that has serious consequences for your immune system. New research from Germany reveals that people with depressive disorders have deformities in their blood cells that could affect the body’s immune response.

Previous research has linked depression to immune system changes such as low-grade inflammation and high glucocorticoid production. However, the results of the study show for the first time a link with mechanical changes in white blood cells.

The researchers interviewed 69 people screened as being at high risk for depression and 70 healthy volunteers serving as a control group for psychiatric disorders. The team used AI’s ‘deep learning’ method to search more than 16 million images of blood cells for signs of changes in cell size and structure.

Depression distorts several types of white blood cells

People with depressive disorders had larger deformities in their peripheral blood cells than the control group. However, the cell size remains unchanged. People who had persistent depressive disorder throughout their lives showed higher levels of deformability in various white blood cells, including their monocytes and neutrophils. Another type of white blood cells called erythrocytes was also more likely to be deformed in current cases of persistent depressive disorder. Additionally, people with current depressive disorders had more changes in their lymphocytes.

The study marks for the first time a relationship between depressive disorders, particularly those lasting longer than two years, with increased blood cell deformities. White blood cells were most likely to be affected by depressive disorders, suggesting that depression could lead to a weakened immune response.

Identifying the mechanism behind the effects of depression on white blood cell deformities could provide insight into targets that new treatments could reverse.

“We are working in parallel on finding pharmacological therapies to improve dysfunctional biology as well as psychological therapies to improve dysfunctional cognitive and emotional processes. Indeed, in my opinion, only a holistic approach can effectively understand and treat this complex disorder and hopefully prevent much suffering in the future,” says Andreas Walther, researcher at the Institute for Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy from the University of Zurich and lead author. of the study, in a university outing.

the study is published in the journal Translational psychiatry.

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