Aging leads to prolonged duration of inflammation-induced depression-like behavior caused by Bacillus Calmette-Guérin

Keith W. Kelley, Jason C. O'Connor, Marcus A. Lawson, Robert Dantzer, Sandra L. Rodriguez-Zas, Robert H. McCusker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Geriatric depression is a costly health issue, but little is known about its physiological underpinnings. Systemic inflammation sensitizes the innate immune system of aged animals and humans, but it is unknown if chronic, low-grade infections affect the duration of depressive-like behaviors. In this report, we infected adult (4-6 months) and aged (20-24 months) Balb/c mice with an attenuated strain of Mycobacterium bovis, Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG), to induce a chronic infection. We then measured depression- like behaviors that have construct, face and predictive validity for human inflammation-associated clinical depression. Exposure to BCG caused acute sickness responses in both adult and aged mice. However, sickness behavior was prolonged in aged mice, as assessed by both locomotor and rearing activity. Two measures of depression-like behavior, which were tests involving sucrose preference and tail suspension, both showed that adult mice displayed depression-like behaviors at one day and seven days after exposure to BCG. However, aged mice continued to express both of these depression-like behaviors at three weeks following infection. Infection with BCG caused an increase in tryptophan catabolism, as evidenced by a significant rise in the plasma kynurenine/tryptophan ratio that peaked at 7 days postinfection. In aged mice, greater tryptophan catabolism persisted longer and remained elevated at 21 days post-infection. This finding is consistent with the prolonged duration of depression-like behaviors in aged mice. These are the first data using a chronic infection model to establish that recovery from inflammation- induced depression-like behavior and tryptophan catabolism are prolonged in aged animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-69
Number of pages7
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Aging
  • Depression-like behavior
  • Inflammation
  • Sickness behavior
  • Sucrose preference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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