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A Drug That Increases Dopamine Reverses Brain Inflammation in Depression

By: April Carson

Studies in labs throughout the globe have demonstrated that inflammation impairs motivation and induces anhedonia, a foundational symptom of depression. It does this by influencing the reward pathways within our brains.

Preceding research conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine has linked inflammation in the brain to a decrease in dopamine production, an essential neurotransmitter that controls movement and motivation. This reduction was found to be present within the ventral striatum specifically.

More recently, researchers tested a drug that increases dopaminergic transmission within this region. The results of the study revealed that this drug had an anti-inflammatory effect which reversed brain inflammation in depressed people.

Researchers in the study revealed that levodopa was effective in fighting against inflammation and reversing the effects of anhedonia (lack of pleasure) among those with higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). The liver releases CRP into your blood as a response to inflammation. Furthermore, it reversed changes in brain functional connectivity related to reward circuitry found in depressed participants.

Overall, this study showed that increasing dopamine levels can be an effective way to lower inflammation in the brain and reverse its effects on depression.

Inflammation levels can be monitored conveniently through the use of straightforward blood tests, such as CRP. These are widely accessible in hospitals and doctor's offices across America. As such, this could allow for early diagnosis of depression and timely treatment.

The results of this study provide further evidence that increasing dopamine levels can be a viable treatment for depressive disorders. This is especially beneficial since medications used to treat depression are often accompanied by adverse side effects.

Forty depressed patients with varying CRP levels participated in the study, during which they had functional brain scans taken twice in random order- first after taking a placebo or then after being prescribed levodopa, an agent commonly used to treat diseases such as Parkinson's.

After two weeks, the results showed that those who took levodopa saw a significant reduction in brain inflammation compared to those who only received the placebo. This effect was seen across all participants regardless of their initial CRP levels.

Levodopa significantly improved the efficacy of reward circuitry in depressed individuals with elevated CRP levels by strengthening their ventral striatum to ventromedial prefrontal cortex circuits. Furthermore, this amelioration was accompanied by a reduction in symptoms of anhedonia after levodopa administration.

These findings provide strong evidence that levodopa may be an effective treatment for depression by restoring the balance of dopamine in reward circuits and reversing brain inflammation.

Jennifer C. Felger, Ph.D., the principal investigator and senior author of this research, emphasizes its critical implications for exploring precision therapies in psychiatric patients with high inflammation levels: "This study provides a translational opportunity to explore how deficits in functional connectivity are associated with inflammation - an insight that could be revolutionary for these treatments." She is an associate professor at Emory School of Medicine's Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences department.

According to Felger, the research results are vital for two distinct causes. Primarily, they signify that patients suffering from depression with elevated inflammation levels may respond particularly well to treatments designed to expand dopamine production. Secondly, these findings also provide additional proof that connections in reward circuitry could operate as a dependable brain biomarker of the effects of inflammation on one's mind.

The research findings underscore the significance of recognizing other neurological markers in addition to inflammation when assessing mental health. Accurately comprehending how inflammation affects depression is essential for creating effective treatments and providing relief to those affected by this condition.

Felger further adds that since the results of levodopa were only applicable to depressed patients with high inflammation, this functional connectivity could be used as a measure for judging how well new treatments work on this particular group of people in clinical trials and future studies.

The team is optimistic that their discoveries could provide promising opportunities for developing personalized treatments for depression, a condition that has affected many people worldwide.

The study has shed light on the role of dopamine in reversing inflammation and could lead to more effective treatments for depression. Ultimately, this research shows that the brain can be treated from within by manipulating its internal mechanisms, a breakthrough with great implications for those suffering from depression.

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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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