Depression: An Evolutionary Byproduct of Immune System?

Only a theory at this point - but may lead to a better understanding if it inspires new research.

"The basic idea is that depression and the genes that promote it were very adaptive for helping people -- especially young children -- not die of infection in the ancestral environment, even if those same behaviors are not helpful in our relationships with other people," Raison says.

Infection was the major cause of death in humans' early history, so surviving infection was a key determinant in whether someone was able to pass on his or her genes. The authors propose that evolution and genetics have bound together depressive symptoms and physiological responses that were selected on the basis of reducing mortality from infection. Fever, fatigue/inactivity, social avoidance and anorexia can all be seen as adaptive behaviors in light of the need to contain infection, they write.


The theory provides a new explanation for why stress is a risk factor for depression. The link between stress and depression can be seen as the byproduct of a process that preactivates the immune system in anticipation of a wound, they write.

Miller and Raison are involved in ongoing research on whether certain medications, which are normally used to treat auto-immune diseases, can be effective with treatment-resistant depression.
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