The mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cells, where nutrients from food is converted to ATP: energy that is usable by the body. Normally, we associate better mitochondrial function with athletes: being able to run, swim or bike fast over long distances requires a lot of energy.
However, all cells in the body require energy and a team of researchers from the University of Ulm, Germany investigated if mitochondrial function was impaired in immune cells (peripheral blood mononuclear cells) of patients suffering from depression. Their reasoning was that symptoms of depression such as fatigue and lack of energy could be related to ATP availability.
The mitochondria in the immune cells of the depressed patients had a significantly lower resting metabolism as well as an impaired capacity to produce energy. In addition, the severity of mitochondrial dysfunction correlated with the severity of depressive symptoms. The researchers suggests that this might lead to a lack of energy when it is needed, such as under stressful and inflammatory conditions. These results might also help explain some of the comorbidities in depression, such as an impaired immune system.
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Fredrik Hjulstad Bækkerud, PhD candidate at CERG