Depression is a debilitating disorder affecting approximately 16.5 % of the American population within their lifetime. According to the National Institute of Mental Health depression affects 2-3 times more women then man and hence may be considered predominantly a female disease. Surprisingly, however, pre-clinical research thus far has focused almost exclusively on male subjects. Clinically, many patients do not respond adequately to anti-depressant with over half of the patients with depression of both sexes not responding to current treatments. This highlights a need for compounds that target novel diseases mechanisms. Previous research by Dr. Hodes and her colleagues surprisingly showed that the peripheral immune system which contributes to inflammatory responses such as arthritis, also contributes to mood and anxiety disorders and consequently peripheral immune treatments may hold promise to be the next wave of personalized treatments for depression.

The NARSAD award supported by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation allows Dr. Hodes to study how differences in the male and female peripheral immune system may contributes to the sex differences in depression and identify defined cytokine profiles that are associated with depression. These studies will make use of mice in which the peripheral immune response can be altered and depressive symptoms akin to human depression quantified in ways not possible in humans. For example, Dr. Hodes will transplant the bone marrow stem cells which produce blood immune cells from female mice into males and vice versa and study how this affects depression-like behavior. Cytokine profiles from these animals will be compared to those of human patients of both sexes with treatment resistant depression in order to understand the potential of these cellular immune mechanisms as possible targets for bio-assays and for future treatments. The hope is to identify certain cytokines that increase with depression and find ways to suppress them so as to reduce depressive symptoms.

Dr. Hodes, an expert in Neuroimmunology joined the School of Neuroscience in 2016 as Assistant Professor. In addition to her research Dr. Hodes teaches two undergraduate classes on Neuroimmunology and Sex Differences in Brain and Behavior.