Virus infections: When flu people make us depressed

Influenza can trigger typical behavior for depression
Influenza can lead to physical symptoms such as fever, headaches, arthralgia and insomnia, but can also have psychological consequences and trigger a typical behavior for depression. To date, it has not been clarified how immunodeficiency and mental changes are related. But now, researchers at the Freiburg University Hospital have found the reason why viral infections such as influenza flu can trigger depressive moods. According to a press release of the clinic, the protein CXCL10 is responsible, which actually controls the virus defense.

Virus infections such as influenza can not only lead to physical symptoms but also cause depressive mood disorders. Researchers have now discovered why this is so.(Photo: Laurentiu Iordache / Virus infections such as influenza can not only lead to physical symptoms, but also cause depressive mood disorders. Researchers have now discovered why this is so.(Image: Laurentiu Iordache /

Findings could help patients in the future
According to the data, the protein inhibits a brain region, which is also diminished during depression during cognitive processes. According to the scientists, the findings could help patients suffering from depressive moods after a viral infection or after an immunotherapy. The results of the work were published in the journal "Immunity", which belongs to the Cell Group."We have now been able to identify the mechanisms by which the immune system influences the mood," said First Author Dr. Thomas Blank, biologist at the Institute of Neuropathology at the Freiburg University Hospital.

protein inhibits nerve cells
The researchers around Prof. Dr. Marco Prinz, Medical Director of the Institute of Neuropathology at Freiburg University Hospital, demonstrated that the blood vessel cells in the brain play an important role in mediating between immune and nervous systems. According to the data, these so-called endothelial and epithelial cells form the protein CXCL10, which so far has been known to attract immune cells and thus contribute to the defense of viruses. The scientists now showed that the protein also inhibits nerve cells in the hippocampus and thus also the cellular basis of learning. As the communication states, this property of individual synapses and nerve cells, which change depending on their use, is called neuronal plasticity and is also reduced in the hippocampus during depression. It is also interesting to note that a study published last year in the journal "Nature" was concerned with the question of whether depression reduces the hippocampus or whether the disorder is present before depression.

Symptoms of depression can be caused by immune proteins
According to the Freiburg scientists, symptoms of depression can also be caused by immunoproteins, so-called type I interferons. These proteins are used to treat hepatitis C, certain types of cancer as well as autoimmune diseases. The experts have now found that interferons act via the same newly described signal pathway. In future studies they will investigate the molecular and cellular basis."However, our data suggest that a blockade of CXCL10 or its receptors can prevent the first disease-induced behavioral changes at the beginning of viral infection or type I interferon therapy," said Prof. Prinz.

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    Influence of virus infections on the behavior
    The research team investigated the influence of virus infection and type I interferons on the behavior of the animals in established experiments in which learning processes as well as the mood of the animals are measured. According to the data, animals with virus infection or type I interferons showed markedly reduced learning capacity and were less active than the control group, which is regarded as depressive behavior. To exclude effects from the disease itself, the scientists also gave the rodents also artificial virus genetic material as well as individual components of the virus. Both activate the immune system without making the animals ill. In both cases the mice showed a depression-like behavior. Thus, the behavioral effect can be traced back to the newly discovered signal path.(ad)

Why depression can get depressed
It has long been known that viral infections such as influenza can cause depressive moods. Why this is so, researchers from Freiburg University have now found out. Responsible is, among other things, a protein, which controls the virus defense.

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