The effect of mood-stabilising drugs on cytokine levels in bipolar disorder: a systematic review
background Alterations of the cytokine level in persons with bipolar disorder – when compared to controls – suggest that the immune system plays a role in the pathophysiology of bipolar disorder. Pharmacotherapy is an important confounding factor in clinical research on cytokine levels.
aim To evaluate the evidence on cytokine levels in medication-free bipolar disorder and to study the effects that single mood-stabilising drugs have on these levels.
method We searched PubMed and Embase systematically in order to single out clinical studies that reported on cytokine levels in medication-free bipolar disorder or that commented on the effects of single mood-stabilising drugs on cytokine levels.
results Of the 564 articles that we screened, we detected 17 that were particularly relevant for our investigation. Results for medication-free patients point to mood-related alterations in cytokine levels. Although we found no data relating to short-term effects of lithium, the use of lithium in euthymic populations was associated with normal cytokine levels. Two studies reported no effect of valproate. We did not find any studies relating to carbamazepine, lamotrigine or antipsychotics.
conclusion Our systematic review of the literature suggests the presence of mood-related changes in cytokine levels in medication-free patients with bipolar disorder, with the most evidence for a proinflammatory response during a manic episode. Euthymia and long-term use of lithium use are associated with normal cytokine levels. There is considerable heterogeneity in the methods used in these studies and too little replication. Future research will have to include longitudinal studies with medication-free baseline measurements. It will also be necessary to draw up single-drug treatment protocols and to conduct intensive mood-related monitoring.