Aspects to take into account when the brain becomes inflamed.
Scientists have known for some time that brain inflammation contributes to long-term neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Lately evidence has been emerging that inflammation can affect the brain more directly and acutely, and could be the basis for a wider range of problems, from impaired cognition during infections to depression and even schizophrenia.
“We’re still trying to figure out what the underlying mechanisms might be,” says Robert M. Buchanan, a researcher at the University of Maryland, who is the creator of a clinical trial of anti-inflammatory drugs for schizophrenia.
Inflammation and cognition
People usually do not feel “100 percent” cognitively when they have a cold or flu infection. That common observation has long implied that inflammation is an important part of the body’s response to these types of infections and that it could play a role in reducing short-term cognition.
Mood disorders and psychosis
As expected, given the effects of inflammation on brain regions related to cognition, it has also been found that inflammation appears to modify mood states.
In an experiment reported in 2001, for example, the researchers injected human volunteers with small doses of a Salmonella toxin, enough to cause a barely perceptible (0.5 degrees Celsius) increase in body temperature, but with no apparent effect on blood pressure or pulse.
Pro-inflammatory proteins such as TNF-α and IL-6 were significantly elevated in the bloodstream, however, and as the researchers noted: “Subjects showed a significant transient increase in levels of anxiety … and depressed mood , as well as their memory functions and nonverbal abilities were significantly reduced. ”
Reducing brain inflammation to elevate mood?
All this has led scientists to seek anti-inflammatory therapies as a complement to the possible treatments for depression, a condition that often does not respond to first-line drugs that increase serotonin and norepinephrine.
In a study conducted in 2006, for example, German researchers found that patients who took the anti-inflammatory drug Celecoxib to treat depression improved significantly more than patients who took only mood-enhancing drugs.
A cross-sectional study using medical records in 2012 has hinted that even aspirin could have a significant impact on the prevention of depression.
Researchers still do not understand exactly how inflammation can lead to depression, let alone how the mechanism might best target drugs, but now they are testing a variety of anti-inflammatory strategies, hoping to find a definitive remedy against depression.