Dysconnectivity of a brain functional network was associated with blood inflammatory markers in depression.


OBJECTIVE: There is increasing evidence for a subgroup of major depressive disorder (MDD) associated with heightened peripheral blood inflammatory markers. In this study, we aimed to understand the mechanistic brain-immune axis in inflammation-linked depression by investigating associations between functional connectivity (FC) of brain networks and peripheral blood immune markers in depression. METHODS: Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and peripheral blood inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein; CRP, interleukin-6; IL-6 and immune cells) were collected on N = 46 healthy controls (HC; CRP ≤ 3 mg/L) and N = 83 cases of depression, stratified further into low CRP cases (loCRP cases; ≤ 3 mg/L; N = 50) and high CRP cases (hiCRP cases; > 3 mg/L; N = 33). In a two-part analysis, network-based statistics (NBS) was firstly used to ascertain whole-brain FC differences in HC vs hiCRP cases. Secondly, we investigated the association between this network of interconnected brain regions and continuous measures of peripheral CRP (N = 83), IL-6 (N = 72), neutrophils and CD4+ T-cells (N = 36) in depression cases only. RESULTS: Case-control NBS testing revealed a single network of abnormally attenuated FC in the high CRP depression cases compared to healthy controls. Connections within this network were mainly between brain regions located in the left insula/frontal operculum and posterior cingulate cortex, which were assigned to ventral attention and default mode canonical fMRI networks respectively. Within-group analysis across all depression cases, secondarily demonstrated that FC within the identified network significantly negatively scaled with CRP, IL-6 and neutrophils. CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that inflammation is associated with disruption of functional connectivity within a brain network deemed critical for interoceptive signalling, e.g. accurate communication of peripheral bodily signals such as immune states to the brain, with implications for the pathogenesis of inflammation-linked depression.