Can Depression Cause Changes In Your Immune System?


Can depression cause lasting changes in immune cells?

A woman wearing a leather jacket lays among the grass with her eyes closed

A new study has established a connection between long-term persistent depressive disorders and mechanical changes in blood cells, and changes in immune cell shape and function.

The researchers performed a cross-sectional case-control study using a test that could determine a cell’s ability to change its shape using healthy blood samples based on changes in blood cell images.

The lead author of the study Dr. Andreas Walther conducted the research while working as a postdoc to Clemens Kirschbaum, the chair of biopsychology at TU Dresden. Dr. Walther feels it is essential to advance biological and psychological therapies to treat depressive conditions more efficiently and sustainably in the long term.

The study included 69 pre-screened individuals at high risk for depressive disorders and 70 matched healthy controls. The participants underwent clinical evaluation using a globally recognized clinical interview process for diagnosing mental health conditions, called the Composite International Diagnostic Interview.

An artificial intelligence method of deep learning scanned over 16 million blood cell images. The images were then classified into main blood cell types and measured using parameters such as cell size, in addition to their ability to change shape and exhibit cell membrane deformability.

The scientists discovered that immune system cells known as monocytes, lymphocytes, and neutrophils were more deformable in patients with a persistent depressive disorder over their lifetime than in control subjects.

A major depressive disorder requires a two-week phase to be diagnosed and select specified criteria. Similarly diagnosed, a persistent depressive disorder lasts for more than two years and can affect an individual for a lifetime. Depressive disorders are the leading causes of disability worldwide.

Depression causes chronic low-grade inflammation and increases stress hormone production. Both of these effects can potentially interfere with the structure of immune cells by deforming their shape.

It is unclear whether the increase in immune cell deformability that occurs with PDD confers over-or under-activity of the immune system, both states being bad for health outcomes.

Gallagher, Marybeth. “Can Depression Cause Lasting Changes in Immune Cells?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 18 Apr. 2022,