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J Psychiatr Res. 1999 Sep-Oct;33(5):407-18.

Plasma levels of cytokines and soluble cytokine receptors in psychiatric patients upon hospital admission: effects of confounding factors and diagnosis.

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Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, Germany.


It has been hypothesized that the immune system plays a pathogenetic role in psychiatric disorders, in particular in major depression and schizophrenia. This hypothesis is supported by a number of reports on altered circulating levels and in vitro production of cytokines in these disorders. However, the respective evidence is not consistent. This may be in part due to an incomplete control for numerous confounding influences in earlier studies. We investigated the plasma levels of cytokines and soluble cytokine receptors in psychiatric patients (N = 361) upon hospital admission and compared the results to those obtained in healthy controls (N = 64). By multiple regression analysis we found that circulating levels of interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra), soluble IL-2 receptor (sIL-2R), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), soluble TNF receptors (sTNF-R p55, sTNF-R p75) and IL-6 were significantly affected by age, the body mass index (BMI), gender, smoking habits, ongoing or recent infectious diseases, or prior medication. Cytokine or cytokine receptor levels were significantly increased in patients treated with clozapine (sIL-2R, sTNF-R p75), lithium (TNF-alpha, sTNF-R p75, IL-6) or benzodiazepines (TNF-alpha, sTNF-R p75). Taking all these confounding factors into account, we found no evidence for disease-related alterations in the levels of IL-1Ra, sIL-2R, sTNF-R p75 and IL-6, whereas levels of TNF-alpha and sTNF-R p55 in major depression and sTNF-R p55 in schizophrenia were slightly decreased compared to healthy controls. We conclude that, if confounding factors are carefully taken into account, plasma levels of the above mentioned cytokines and cytokine receptors yield little, if any, evidence for immunopathology in schizophrenia or major depression.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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