Depression following an acute coronary syndrome (ACS, including myocardial infarction or unstable angina) is associated with recurrent cardiovascular events, but the depressive symptoms that are cardiotoxic appear to have particular characteristics: they are 'incident' rather than being a continuation of prior depression, and they are somatic rather than cognitive in nature. We tested the hypothesis that the magnitude of inflammatory responses during the ACS would predict somatic symptoms of depression 3 weeks and 6 months later, specifically in patients without a history of depressive illness. White cell count and C-reactive protein were measured on the day after admission in 216 ACS patients. ACS was associated with very high levels of inflammation, averaging 13.23 x 10(9)/l and 17.06 mg/l for white cell count and C-reactive protein respectively. White cell count during ACS predicted somatic symptom intensity on the Beck Depression Inventory 3 weeks later (beta = 0.122, 95% C.I. 0.015-0.230, p = 0.025) independently of age, sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, marital status, smoking, cardiac arrest during admission and clinical cardiac risk, but only in patients without a history of depression. At 6 months, white cell count during ACS was associated with elevated anxiety on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale independently of covariates including anxiety measured at 3 weeks (adjusted odds ratio 1.08, 95% C.I. 1.01-1.15, p = 0.022). An unpredicted relationship between white cell count during ACS and cognitive symptoms of depression at 6 months was also observed. The study provides some support for the hypothesis that the marked inflammation during ACS contributes to later depression in a subset of patients, but the evidence is not conclusive. (C) 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.