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Changes in inflammatory biomarkers are related to the antidepressant effects of Ayahuasca

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Background: Ayahuasca is a traditional Amazon brew and its potential antidepressant properties have recently been explored in scientific settings. We conducted a double-blind placebo-controlled trial of ayahuasca with treatment-resistant depression patients (n = 28) and healthy controls (n = 45).

Aims: We are evaluating the blood inflammatory biomarkers: C-reactive protein and interleukin 6, as a potential consequence of ayahuasca intake and their correlation with serum cortisol and brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels. Blood samples were collected at pre-treatment and 48 hours after substance ingestion to assess the concentration of inflammatory biomarkers, together with administration of the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale.

Results: At pre-treatment, patients showed higher C-reactive protein levels than healthy controls and a significant negative correlation between C-reactive protein and serum cortisol levels was revealed (rho = -0.40, n = 14). C-reactive protein in those patients was not correlated with Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale scores. We observed a significant reduction of C-reactive protein levels across time in both patients and controls treated with ayahuasca, but not with placebo. Patients treated with ayahuasca showed a significant correlation (rho = + 0.57) between larger reductions of C-reactive protein and lower depressive symptoms at 48 hours after substance ingestion (Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale). No significant result with respect to interleukin 6 and brain-derived neurotrophic factor was found. Furthermore, these biomarkers did not predict the antidepressant response or remission rates observed.

Conclusions: These findings enhance the understanding of the biological mechanisms behind the observed antidepressant effects of ayahuasca and encourage further clinical trials in adults with depression.

Galvão-Coelho, N. L., de Menezes Galvão, A. C., de Almeida, R. N., Palhano-Fontes, F., Campos Braga, I., Lobão Soares, B., … & de Araujo, D. B. (2020). Changes in inflammatory biomarkers are related to the antidepressant effects of Ayahuasca. Journal of Psychopharmacology34(10), 1125-1133; 10.1177/0269881120936486
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