COULD AN OVERACTIVE IMMUNE SYSTEM make you depressed? In the late 1990s, psychiatrist Andrew Miller and his colleagues began to notice that patients with cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity and Crohn’s disease—all conditions that cause higher than normal levels of inflammation—often suffered from elevated rates of depression. He also observed that many patients who took medication to tamp down their immune system, thereby reducing inflammation, also saw their depressive symptoms ease.
But when Miller tried to interest pharmaceutical companies in studying the effect of immunosuppressants on depression, he got turned down again and again. “I lost count of the number of lunches I had with drug company executives, but the answer was always no,” says Miller, who also serves as the director of the Immunology Program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Drugmakers didn’t want to risk having a depressed patient attempt suicide while taking their medication, forever branding the drug with the “black-box warning” of potential suicide that every conventional antidepressant medicine already carried.
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