Low-dose interleukin 2 antidepressant potentiation in unipolar and bipolar depression: Safety, efficacy, and immunological biomarkers

Sara Poletti*, Raffaella Zanardi, Alessandra Mandelli, Veronica Aggio, Annamaria Finardi, Cristina Lorenzi, Giovanna Borsellino, Matteo Carminati, Elena Manfredi, Enrico Tomasi, Sara Spadini, Cristina Colombo, Hemmo A. Drexhage, Roberto Furlan, Francesco Benedetti

*Corresponding author for this work

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Immune-inflammatory mechanisms are promising targets for antidepressant pharmacology. Immune cell abnormalities have been reported in mood disorders showing a partial T cell defect. Following this line of reasoning we defined an antidepressant potentiation treatment with add-on low-dose interleukin 2 (IL-2). IL-2 is a T-cell growth factor which has proven anti-inflammatory efficacy in autoimmune conditions, increasing thymic production of naïve CD4 + T cells, and possibly correcting the partial T cell defect observed in mood disorders. We performed a single-center, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase II trial evaluating the safety, clinical efficacy and biological responses of low-dose IL-2 in depressed patients with major depressive (MDD) or bipolar disorder (BD). 36 consecutively recruited inpatients at the Mood Disorder Unit were randomised in a 2:1 ratio to receive either aldesleukin (12 MDD and 12 BD) or placebo (6 MDD and 6 BD). Active treatment significantly potentiated antidepressant response to ongoing SSRI/SNRI treatment in both diagnostic groups, and expanded the population of T regulatory, T helper 2, and percentage of Naive CD4+/CD8 + immune cells. Changes in cell frequences were rapidly induced in the first five days of treatment, and predicted the later improvement of depression severity. No serious adverse effect was observed. This is the first randomised control trial (RCT) evidence supporting the hypothesis that treatment to strengthen the T cell system could be a successful way to correct the immuno-inflammatory abnormalities associated with mood disorders, and potentiate antidepressant response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-68
Number of pages17
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Publication statusPublished - May 2024

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