Lymphocyte subsets associated with major depression and dysthymia: Modification by antidepressant treatment.

Document Type



Brain and Mind Institute


Major depression and dysthymia (chronic, low grade depression) were associated with an increase in the number of CD16/56 (natural killer; NK) cells in blood, whereas other lymphocyte subsets (CD3, CD4, CD8, CD19, and the CD4/CD8 ratio) did not differ from control subjects. After treatment with a specific serotonin reuptake inhibitor, the symptoms of depression were alleviated in both the major depressive and dysthymic patients. Likewise, NK cell numbers declined to control values in these treated groups. Among the major depressive patients, the NK cell number reached control values within 4 weeks, whereas 6 months of treatment was required for such an effect to be achieved in the dysthymic patients. Although plasma levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol, and ACTH were not different between groups, among the major depressive patients ACTH was inversely correlated with total lymphocytes, CD3, and CD19, and epinephrine was directly related to the CD4 and CD4/CD8 ratio. Among dysthymics, ACTH was unrelated to any of the lymphocyte subsets, but norepinephrine was directly related to total lymphocytes, CD3, CD4, and NK cells. The data are interpreted in terms of stress perception among major depressive and dysthymic patients and the potential impact of stressor experiences on immune processes.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.


Psychosomatic Medicine