Body’s defenses against common viruses may mess up neurons, spark depression | Ars Technica

Getting sick is definitely a bummer. But besides feeling icky and being stuck in bed, viral infections may cause us to actually be depressed. While scientists have been clued into this connection for a while, there was little data on how everyday viral infections, like the flu, might mess with our moods.

Now, data from a new mouse study shows that common viruses may spur sadness by causing the cells that line the blood-brain barrier to release signals that hush the chatter between neurons in the area of the brain responsible for mood. The findings, published this week in the journal Immunity, may finally explain the link between infections and mental health problems, and it could point researchers towards new strategies for treating depression and other mood disorders.

Researchers have been collecting hints of the connection between mental health and infections for years. Though it was first dismissed as people simply being blue about getting sick, doctors now accept that there is a condition called “sickness behavior.” This condition is marked by cognitive deficits, drowsiness, general malaise, and other depression-like symptoms in those with an infection. Moreover, in a 2013 Danish study, researchers found that people who had been treated for a severe infection were 62 percent more likely to suffer from mood disorders. Perhaps related, those that had an autoimmune disease were 45 percent more likely to have such a mental health issue."

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