Psychosomatics. 2017 Jan – Feb;58(1):64-68.

Depression and Liver Transplant Survival.

Meller W1, Welle N1, Sutley K1, Thurber S2.

1Department of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.

2Minnesota Department of Human Services, Child and Adolescent Behavior Health Services, Willmar, MN. Electronic address:




We are a part of the Itasca “Brain and Behavior” Research group (see enclosed picture), composed principally of physicians and Ph.D. investigators from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and Nippon Medical School, in Japan. The term “Itasca” is the name of a state park in Minnesota, home of a University of Minnesota research station.


We engage in a variety of projects including cross-cultural investigations (e.g., comparisons of psychometric data between American and Japanese versions of test instruments), delirium research, neuroimaging, substance usage studies, and more recently collaboration on liver transplantation research. Part of the Itasca group’s mission is involving inexperienced individuals in research methodology and data analysis.


The organ transplant team at the University of Minnesota recruited the Itasca group to aid in data analysis and interpretation in relation to patients who received liver transplants over a twenty-year period. In particular, transplant surgeons and support personnel were interested in analysis of psychological and demographic data that were gathered as part of their longitudinal investigation. Two of the Itasca group, William Meller and Steven Thurber, became centrally involved together with residents in Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, Nicole Welle, and Kristen Sutley, who participated for the first time in a research project.


We were asked to evaluate variables predictive of post-transplant longevity. Included in the data set presented to us were post-transplant complications such as adverse emotional reactivity. Our survival analyses identified depression as a variable associated with greater longevity, controlling for gender (women were found to survive longer than men) and age at the time of transplant. These data are presented graphically below (it should be noted that the median is the more appropriate statistic for survival data). This result presented to us and the transplant team an intriguing possibility, viz., that patients who actually self-identified depressed emotional conditions and importantly sought medical assistance, might be a subset of transplant individuals willing to adhere to post-transplant medical advice and follow other recovery recommendations.


We of the Itasca Brain and Behavior group are continuing to analyze the post-transplant data. Articles on survival of males versus females, and on individuals with liver failure due to over-usage of tylenol and alcohol are forthcoming.


The Itasca Brain and Behavior Association. From left, first row Yoko Kishi, Dr. William Meller, Jane Meller. Second row, Dr. Yasuhiro KIshi, Dr. Mary Kathol, Last row, Dr. Roger Kathol, Dr. Steven Thurber, Steven Smith.