Bipolar disorder is a chronic, severe and disabling disease; however, its pathophysiology remains poorly understood. Recent evidence has suggested that inflammation and immune dysregulation play a significant role in the pathophysiology of bipolar disorder. This review is aimed to highlight the importance of systemic inflammation in modulating the inflammatory response of microglia and hence its potential involvement with bipolar disorder. We also discuss novel therapeutic strategies that emerge from this new research.
This article presents a theoretical synthesis of the effects of systemic inflammation on the immune response of the central nervous system in bipolar disorder. The complex relationship between stress, pro-inflammatory cytokines and microglial dysfunction is summarized, emphasizing the role of the kynurenine pathway in this process and, consequently, their effects on neuronal plasticity.
Bipolar patients demonstrate increased serum levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (interleukin-1β, interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-α) and lower hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis sensitivity. This imbalance in the immune system promotes a change in blood–brain barrier permeability, leading to an inflammatory signal spread in the central nervous system from the periphery, through macrophages activation (M1 polarization). Chronic microglial activation can result in neuronal apoptosis, neurogenesis inhibition, hippocampal volume reduction, lower neurotransmitters synthesis and cytotoxicity, by increasing glutamate production and kynurenine metabolism.
This review provides an overview of the mechanisms involved in the immune system imbalance and its potential involvement in the pathophysiology of bipolar disorder. Consequently, new strategies that normalize the immune-inflammatory pathways may provide a valuable therapeutic target for the treatment of these disorders.