Vaccinating for Anxiety and Depression

Innovative approaches to treatments of anxiety and affective disorders

Imagine a new treatment for anxiety and affective disorders that worked much like a vaccine against the flu yet, rather than fighting against a pathogen, this vaccine allowed the patient to have a period of time in which they didn't suffer from anxiety or depression. A treatment such as this would have implications affecting millions of patients in the United States alone. Consider a shot that could help prevent the long term hardships that PTSD brings to millions of military men and women and victims of trauma. Novel methods of treatment and prevention such as this are not as distant as one might think.

In fact, Dr. Christopher Lowry of the University of Colorado Boulder has been developing a treatment that is now poised to initiate clinical trials. Dr. Lowry's research seeks to understand the neural mechanisms underlying stress-related physiology and emotional behavior, with a focus on the role of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is believed to have a profound effect on both anxiety and depression.

  • Dr. Lowry has identified many types of serotonin neurons with various types of functions. By isolating specific serotonin neurons, his research has already characterized those implicated in inhibition of panic, causing depression and anxiety, and helping with stress resilience.
  • The Hygiene Hypothesis states that we are no longer exposed to environmental bacteria that would help to build our immune system's tolerance. Therefore, our immune system has an inflammatory bias. By using Mycobacterium vaccae, a microorganism that co-evolved with humans and is therefore tolerated by the immune system, he hopes to be able to induce anti-inflammatory responses to prevent or treat stress-related psychiatric disorders with a vaccine.
  • The current antidepressant drugs on the market have been found when researchers were looking to treat something else and treatment for depression is a side effect of such treatments. With the information gathered by Dr. Lowry's research, investigators could make targeted medications specifically for depression.
  • Dr. Lowry uses complementary medicinal approaches, such as whole body infrared heating, to activate the body's own antidepressant mechanisms. This treatment, much like light therapy, may be an effective treatment for depressed patients to reestablish balance within the body.

Dr. Lowry's research has the potential to reduce human suffering, both for individuals affected by anxiety and affective disorders, and their loved ones. By focusing on the development of innovative approaches to both the prevention and treatment of anxiety and affective disorders, Dr. Lowry and his counterparts are paving the way to novel treatments that, with increased accessibility, could have lasting impacts.


Dr. Christopher Lowry is an Associate Professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Center for Neuroscience. He received his Ph.D. in Zoology from Oregon State University in 1995 and subsequently trained at the University of Bristol, UK.

In 2002, he was awarded a prestigious Welcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowship. He joined the University of Colorado Boulder in 2007. He has received 2007 and 2010 Young Investigator Awards from NARSAD, The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. He has authored or co-authored over 100 book chapters, review articles and journal articles. 

His primary research interest is to understand the physiologic mechanisms underlying the control of anxiety states and emotional behavior, with a focus on the role of serotonergic systems.


Young Investigator Award, NARSAD

National Science Foundation, Career Award

Young Investigator Award, NARSAD

Donald F. Klein Early Career Investigator Award, Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA)