Atypical immune response to Epstein-Barr virus in major depressive disorder

Lorraine Jones-Brando, Faith Dickerson, Glen Ford, Cassie Stallings, Andrea Origoni, Emily Katsafanas, Kevin Sweeney, Amalia Squire, Sunil Khushalani, Robert Yolken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: : An atypical immune response to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection has been associated with several complex diseases including schizophrenia. The etiology of MDD is unclear; host immune response to EBV infection could play a role. Methods: : We utilized solid phase immunoassays and western blots to measure antibodies to EBV virions, specific viral proteins, and 5 other herpesviruses in 87 individuals with MDD and 312 control individuals. Results: : Individuals with MDD had significantly reduced levels of reactivity to EBV Nuclear Antigen-1. Quantitative levels of antibodies to EBV virions and Viral Capsid Antigen did not differ between groups. Individuals with decreased levels of anti-Nuclear Antigen-1, or elevated levels of anti-virion had increased odds of being in the MDD group. The odds of MDD were elevated in individuals who had the combination of high levels of anti-virion and low levels of anti-Nuclear Antigen-1 (OR =13.6). Western blot analysis corroborated decreased reactivity to Nuclear Antigen-1 in the MDD group and revealed altered levels of antibodies to other EBV proteins. There was a trend towards decreased levels of antibodies to varicella virus in the group of individuals with MDD. Limitations: : The MDD sample size was relatively small. There could be unmeasured factors that account for the association between MDD and the immune response to EBV. Conclusions: : Individuals with MDD have altered levels and patterns of antibodies to EBV antigens. This atypical response could contribute to the immunopathology of MDD. Therapeutic interventions available for treatment of EBV infection could potentially be of benefit in MDD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-226
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Herpesvirus
  • Immune response
  • Infection
  • Major depressive disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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