Role of Inflammation in Depressive and Anxiety Disorders, Affect, and Cognition: Genetic and Non-Genetic Findings in the Lifelines Cohort Study

Naoise Mac Giollabhui*, Chloe Slaney*, Gibran Hemani, Eimear M. Foley, Peter J van der Most, Ilja M Nolte, Harold Snieder, George Davey Smith, Golam Khandaker, Catharina Hartman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Working paperPreprintAcademic

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Background: Low-grade systemic inflammation is implicated in the pathogenesis of various neuropsychiatric conditions affecting mood and cognition. While much of the evidence concerns depression, large-scale population studies of anxiety, affect, and cognitive function are scarce. Importantly, causality remains unclear. We used complementary non-genetic, genetic risk score (GRS), and Mendelian randomization (MR) analyses to examine whether inflammatory markers are associated with affect, depressive and anxiety disorders, and cognitive performance in the Lifelines Cohort; and whether associations are likely to be causal.

Methods: Using data from up to 55,098 (59% female) individuals from the Dutch Lifelines cohort, we tested the cross-sectional and longitudinal associations of C-reactive protein (CRP) with (i) depressive and anxiety disorders; (ii) positive and negative affect scores, and (iii) five cognitive measures assessing attention, psychomotor speed, episodic memory, and executive functioning (figural fluency and working memory). Additionally, we examined the association between inflammatory marker GRSs (CRP, interleukin-6 [IL-6], IL-6 receptor [IL-6R and soluble IL-6R (sIL-6R)], glycoprotein acetyls [GlycA]) on these same outcomes (Nmax=57,946), followed by MR analysis examining evidence of causality of CRP on outcomes (Nmax=23,268). In genetic analyses, all GRSs and outcomes were z-transformed.

Results: In non-genetic analyses, higher CRP was associated with diagnosis of any depressive disorder, lower positive and higher negative affect scores, and worse performance on tests of figural fluency, attention, and psychomotor speed after adjusting for potential confounders, although the magnitude of these associations was small. In genetic analyses, CRPGRS was associated with any anxiety disorder (β=0.002, p=0.037, N=57,047) whereas GlycAGRS was associated with major depressive disorder (β=0.001, p=0.036; N=57,047). Both CRPGRS (β=0.006, p=0.035, N=57,946) and GlycAGRS (β=0.006, p=0.049; N=57,946) were associated with higher negative affect score. Inflammatory marker GRSs were not associated with cognitive performance, except sIL-6RGRS which was associated with poorer memory performance (β=-0.009, p=0.018, N=36,783). Further examination of the CRP-anxiety association using MR provided some weak evidence of causality (β=0.12; p=0.054).

Conclusions: Genetic and non-genetic analyses provide consistent evidence for an association between CRP and negative affect. Genetic analyses suggest that IL-6 signaling could be relevant for memory, and that the association between CRP and anxiety disorders could be causal. These results suggest that dysregulated immune physiology may impact a broad range of trans-diagnostic affective symptoms. However, given the small effect sizes and multiple tests conducted, future studies are required to investigate whether effects are moderated by sub-groups and whether these findings replicate in other cohorts.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 19-Apr-2024

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