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Immune Link to Stress Could Help in Treating Depression

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Depression in TeenGiven the hectic lifestyle that people are embracing these days, stress has become a part and parcel of life. Our modern lifestyle is full of demands and deadlines, so much so that we don't even realize when we start suffering from chronic stress. There is a complex relationship between stress, our mind and our body's reaction to stress. In small doses, stress is not at all a bad thing; in fact it can help us in performing under pressure. But, when your body is always on red alert, it eventually pays the price.

The onset of clinical depression can be triggered due to various reasons. Some people develop depression due to a stressful event in their life “ like a job loss, death of a beloved, end of a relationship, etc. Since, the number of people suffering from clinical depression is on the rise, there has been a need to more research in the area. A new research at the University of Adelaide has been exploring new links to find ways for improving treatments of severe clinical depression.

While the treatments we have today have proved effective for many; however statistics reveal that the current treatments for major depressive disorder (MDD) have proved effective for only 1 in 7 people. So, it is likely that some vital points linked to the underlying causes of depression are missed out and have so far gone untreated. These facts have been published in a paper published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, a team based in the University’s School of Medical Sciences.

A thorough review of the previous studies that have been conducted by the researchers and they have come to the conclusion that toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), the protein well known for its role in immunology, called could open up new avenues and be vital to understanding the disease in a better way.

JiaJun (“JJ”) Liu, co-author and PhD student in Physiology at the University of Adelaide, said that the medications that are prescribed to patients suffering from depression currently are insufficient and fail to provide any real benefit. In fact, only one in seven patients are said to have shown any significant improvements. Our current lifestyles put a lot of burden on individuals, families and society. That is why depression is so common place these days. The importance of new insights into the condition, new medication and new treatment procedures cannot be emphasized enough.


Ms. Liu further adds that for years scientists have known that chronic stress leads to ill health, and the immune system of our body has a direct connection with several psychosomatic illnesses. However, stress is one of those areas that have been very difficult to study because one cannot pinpoint for sure what it does in the body. It is seen that patients suffering from severe depression suffer from the breakdown of their immune system. Again, it is also seen that a decrease in depressive symptoms can help in the normalization of this immunology. So, it is likely that the changes that take place in the immune system are playing a major role in patients’ condition of depression.

In her review of literature that examines human brain as an immune organ, Ms. Liu observes that there is a clear role for TLR4 and its control of hormones in the body, all of which results in chronic stress that gradually paves way for depression. She adds that the immune-brain-hormone systems are in constant communication. When stress or major depressive disorder occurs, all three systems can become dysfunctional in patients. In order to solve the puzzle of finding the right targets for treatment, we have to understand and untangle these multi-layered relationships.

More research is needed to understand the relationship between TLR4 and depression. However, timing and location of TLR4 activation seems to be important.