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Brain Behav Immun. 2011 May;25(4):591-601. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2010.12.005. Epub 2010 Dec 16.

Lymphocytes in neuroprotection, cognition and emotion: is intolerance really the answer?

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Department of Infection, University College London (UCL), London W1T4JF, UK.


Clinical, epidemiological and therapeutic studies indicate that some human depression is associated with proinflammatory cytokines, chronic inflammatory disorders, and inflammation-inducing lifestyle factors. Moreover depression can be induced by administration of proinflammatory cytokines, including IL-2 or IFN-α. However, recent studies in specific pathogen-free (SPF) rodents suggest a different--and potentially contradictory--relationship between immune processes and mental health. These studies suggest that effector T cells specific for central nervous system (CNS) antigens can assist recovery from an array of environmental insults ranging from nerve injury to psychological stress, while in contrast, regulatory T cells (Treg) oppose such recovery. Indeed, some reported effects of this so-called "protective autoimmunity" seem of direct relevance to depressive disorders. These findings pose a dilemma for those intending to manipulate inflammatory pathways as a treatment for depression. Should we administer anti-inflammatory treatments, or should we induce self-reactive T cells? We re-examine the rodent findings and outline immunological peculiarities of SPF rodents, the abnormal properties of their regulatory T cells, and the impact of gut microbiota. We find that "protective autoimmunity" is likely to be relevant only to very clean SPF animals that lack normal levels of activated T cells, CNS T cell traffic and mature Treg. The data indicate that even in SPF models the effectors of beneficial effects are not the proinflammatory autoimmune cells themselves, but rather unidentified regulatory cells. This reinterpretation of findings relevant to "protective autoimmunity" suggests that ongoing, and planned, clinical trials of anti-inflammatory strategies to treat depressive disorders are justified.

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