A novel biomarker of interleukin 6 activity and clinical and cognitive outcomes in depression

Éimear M. Foley*, Chloe Slaney, Nicholas Donnelly, Muzaffer Kaser, Louise Ziegler, Golam Khandaker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Inflammatory cytokines like interleukin-6 (IL-6) are implicated in depression, but most studies have hitherto focused on circulating levels of IL-6 rather than its activity. IL-6 trans-signalling is thought to be responsible for most of the pathogenic effects of IL-6 and is implicated in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. We tested the association between a multi-protein-derived measure of IL-6 trans-signalling and clinical and cognitive outcomes in patients with depression. We hypothesised that this novel measure of IL-6 activity/bioavailability would be associated with clinical and cognitive measures previously reported to be associated with inflammation in depression.

Using data from 86 patients with International Classification of Diseases-10 diagnosis of depression, we calculated a ratio score representing IL-6 activity/bioavailability using serum IL-6, soluble IL-6 receptor (sIL-6R), and soluble glycoprotein 130 levels. We tested the relationship of this novel biomarker with 12 cytokines using correlation analyses and with cognitive and clinical measures using multivariable linear regression, following z-transformation of all immune exposures.

The novel measure of IL-6 activity/bioavailability was correlated with IL-6 (r=0.42, P=0.03), C-reactive protein (CRP) (r=0.42, P=0.03), sIL-6R (r=0.91, P<0.01), and tumour necrosis factor alpha (r=0.43, P=0.03). The IL-6 activity/bioavailability measure was associated with higher somatic symptoms of depression (β=1.09; 95% CI 0.30, 1.88; PFDR=0.01), fatigue (β=4.34; 95% CI 1.26, 7.42; PFDR=0.03), depression severity (β=3.06; 95% CI 0.71, 5.40; P=0.02), poorer quality of life (β=−0.07; 95% CI −0.13, −0.01; PFDR=0.045), and decreased psychomotor speed (β=−5.46; 95% CI −9.09, −1.84; PFDR=0.01),. There was little evidence of associations with reaction time, anhedonia, anxiety, emotional perception and recall, executive function, and sustained attention (Ps>0.05). The effect estimates for the associations of the novel measure with depression outcomes were comparable to those for individual immune proteins (i.e., IL-6, CRP, sIL-6R).

A novel multi-protein-derived measure of IL-6 activity/bioavailability shows robust associations with various inflammation-related clinical and cognitive outcomes in depression and performs well in comparison to single inflammatory proteins. We need replication of these findings in other samples, experiments for mechanistic validity of this novel biomarker, and clinical studies to assess its usefulness as a marker of illness risk and prognosis.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107008
Number of pages10
Early online date29 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2024

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© 2024 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd.


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