Researching inflammation and depression

26 Nov, 2018
Researching inflammation and depression

Auckland University of Technology has won a Marsden Grant of $827K to investigate the relationship between inflammation in the body and depression.

Research leader and psychology professor Richard Siegert says more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression and while there is evidence that depression and general inflammation often occur together, there is little understanding of how they affect each other. He says New Zealand has a high lifetime prevalence of depression and the AUT study will focus on Pacific youth in New Zealand, a group that displays double the rate of depression of the general population.

The Pacific Youth Inflammation and Depression research will focus on the participants of the Pacific Islands Families (PIF) Study, a long-term AUT study following more than 1000 Pacific Island children born in Auckland in the year 2000 and their families. At the age of 20, PIFs participants will have their blood tested and fill out psychological questionnaires to measure depression.

Using the blood tests, researchers will look for biomarkers, known as cytokines, which indicate general inflammation in the body. The body’s immune system produces cytokines to combat inflammation.  The psychological questionnaires will test the participants for signs of clinical depression.

Researchers will integrate information on inflammation levels and depression with the large body of data already collected for the PIF Study. AUT professor Ajit Narayanan of the School of Mathematics and Computer Science and Dr Joanna Dipnall a statistician at Deakin University will then work on making sense of the data to uncover any patterns linking the life histories of the PIF participants with signs of depression and inflammation.

Professor Siegert says, “We are interested in finding out which historical factors – such as childhood adversity – are predictors of depression and inflammation at the age of 20. We want to investigate whether there is a particular type of depression characterised by high levels of inflammatory markers in the blood stream; and whether some people with depression have no signs of inflammation. If there is a sub-group of people with depression characterised by high levels of inflammation that could help us find better ways of treatment.”


The PIF Study led by AUT’s Dr Dan Tautolo and Professor Janis Paterson aims to determine the optimum way forward for Pacific children and families during critical development periods by identifying risk and resilience factors.

Associate Professor Fabrice Merien of AUT’s Roche Diagnostics Laboratory will lead the blood diagnostics and Professor Richard Siegert will lead the psychological testing.