Press Release

Sheppard Pratt Research Shows an Atypical Immune Response to Epstein-Barr Virus in Major Depressive Disorder


New research from Sheppard Pratt Health System, performed in collaboration with researchers at Johns Hopkins, suggests that there is an atypical immune response to Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) in persons with major depressive disorder, which over 20% of the U.S. population experiences in their lifetime. This research was published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders

EBV is a highly prevalent human herpes virus that is associated with autoimmune disorders; many persons with these disorders have mood symptoms. This finding may point to an immune response that is related to the biological foundation of depression. This finding is also linked to a previous Sheppard Pratt study in which researchers found a different type of atypical response to EBV in persons with schizophrenia. 

The current study consisted of blood samples from 399 individuals including 87 with major depressive disorder and 312 individuals without a psychiatric disorder. The results showed that individuals with major depressive disorder had reduced levels of reactivity to some EBV antibodies while they had increased levels to others. 

“This study is important because it provides insights into the possible causes of major depressive disorder and the role of environmental factors,” said Faith Dickerson, PhD, MPH, director of psychology at Sheppard Pratt Health System. “There have been few studies conducted that links the association between exposure to EBV and depression.”

Th¬is study indicates that in the future some cases of depression may be prevented or treated by controlling EBV infection. 

The study was conducted by the Stanley Research Program at Sheppard Pratt; the Stanley Neurovirology Laboratory, Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and VanPelt Biosciences. 

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About Sheppard Pratt

Sheppard Pratt is the largest private, nonprofit provider of mental health, substance use, developmental disability, special education, and social services in the country. A nationwide resource, Sheppard Pratt provides services across a comprehensive continuum of care, spanning both hospital- and community-based resources. Since its founding in 1853, Sheppard Pratt has been innovating the field through research, best practice implementation, and a focus on improving the quality of mental health care on a global level. Sheppard Pratt has been consistently ranked as a top national psychiatric hospital by U.S. News & World Report for more than 30 years.