Correlation between immune-related genes and depression-like features in an animal model and in humans

Edson Luck Gonzales, Se Jin Jeon, Kyu Man Han, Seung Jin Yang, Yujeong Kim, Chilly Gay Remonde, Tae Jin Ahn, Byung Joo Ham, Chan Young Shin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A growing body of evidence suggests that immune-related genes play pivotal roles in the pathophysiology of depression. In the present study, we investigated a plausible connection between gene expression, DNA methylation, and brain structural changes in the pathophysiology of depression using a combined approach of murine and human studies. We ranked the immobility behaviors of 30 outbred Crl:CD1 (ICR) mice in the forced swim test (FST) and harvested their prefrontal cortices for RNA sequencing. Of the 24,532 analyzed genes, 141 showed significant correlations with FST immobility time, as determined through linear regression analysis with p ≤ 0.01. The identified genes were mostly involved in immune responses, especially interferon signaling pathways. Moreover, induction of virus-like neuroinflammation in the brains of two separate mouse cohorts (n = 30 each) using intracerebroventricular polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid injection resulted in increased immobility during FST and similar expression of top immobility-correlated genes. In human blood samples, candidate gene (top 5%) expression profiling using DNA methylation analysis found the interferon-related USP18 (cg25484698, p = 7.04 × 10−11, Δβ = 1.57 × 10–2; cg02518889, p = 2.92 × 10−3, Δβ = − 8.20 × 10–3) and IFI44 (cg07107453, p = 3.76 × 10–3, Δβ = − 4.94 × 10–3) genes to be differentially methylated between patients with major depressive disorder (n = 350) and healthy controls (n = 161). Furthermore, cortical thickness analyses using T1-weighted images revealed that the DNA methylation scores for USP18 were negatively correlated with the thicknesses of several cortical regions, including the prefrontal cortex. Our results reveal the important role of the interferon pathway in depression and suggest USP18 as a potential candidate target. The results of the correlation analysis between transcriptomic data and animal behavior carried out in this study provide insights that could enhance our understanding of depression in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-43
Number of pages15
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Oct

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grants funded by the Korean government by the Ministry of Education (NRF-2020M3E5D9080165 and NRF-2022R1F1A1074517) and by the Korea Drug Development Fund, funded by Ministry of Science and ICT, Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy, and Ministry of Health and Welfare (HN21C1076).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Inc.


  • Cortical thickness
  • DNA methylation
  • Depression
  • Immune responses
  • Individual differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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