How inflammation affects the brain in depression: A review of functional and structural MRI studies

Kyu Man Han, Byung Joo Ham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


This narrative review discusses how peripheral and central inflammation processes affect brain function and structure in depression, and reports on recent peripheral inflammatory marker-based functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies from the perspective of neural-circuit dysfunction in depression. Chronic stress stimulates the activity of microglial cells, which increases the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the brain. In addition, microglial activation promotes a shift from the synthesis of serotonin to the synthesis of neurotoxic metabolites of the kynurenine pathway, which induces glutamatemediated excitotoxicity in neurons. Furthermore, the region specificity of microglial activation is hypothesized to contribute to the vulnerability of specific brain regions in the depressionrelated neural circuits to inflammation-mediated brain injury. MRI studies are increasingly investigating how the blood levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein, interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor-α are associated with functional and structural neuroimaging markers in depression. Functional MRI studies have found that peripheral inflammatory markers are associated with aberrant activation patterns and altered functional connectivity in neural circuits involved in emotion regulation, reward processing, and cognitive control in depression. Structural MRI studies have suggested that peripheral inflammatory markers are related to reduced cortical gray matter and subcortical volumes, cortical thinning, and decreased integrity of white matter tracts within depression-related neural circuits. These neuroimaging findings may improve our understanding of the relationships between neuroinflammatory processes at the molecular level and macroscale in vivo neuralcircuit dysfunction in depression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-515
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Clinical Neurology (Korea)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Oct


  • Depression
  • Inflammation
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Neuroimaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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