Antidepressants and the brain
Delgado P, Moreno F
University of Arizona College of Medicine,
Tucson 85724, USA.
Int Clin Psychopharmacol 1999 May; 14 Suppl 1:S9-16


The pathophysiology and effects of antidepressants in the brain are still poorly understood. While it is generally accepted that increasing the levels of monoamine in the brain is an effective way to alleviate depression, the precise neurobiological mechanisms are unclear. The evidence that monoamine function is impaired in individuals with depression is largely indirect. However, the neurotransmitter depletion model allows a more direct investigation of the role of the monoamines. In this model, tryptophan depletion is used to lower levels of serotonin and alpha-methylparatyrosine is used to induce catecholamine depletion in the brain. Studies have shown that such depletion transiently reverses antidepressant responses in the majority of patients, the response being dependent on the type of antidepressant used. However, depletion in unmedicated patients with depression did not worsen the depressive symptoms, neither did it cause depression in healthy subjects with no history of mental illness. The cause(s) of depression therefore appears to be more complex than simply a reduction in levels of monoamine or diminished function in these systems. The pathophysiology of depression may relate to dysfunction in brain areas modulated by monoamine systems. Antidepressant drugs may mediate their effects by causing adaptive changes in neurones localised in these brain areas.
Severe depression
Tyrosine hydroxylase
Tryptophan hydroxylase
Noradrenaline depletion
Catecholamine depletion
The monoamine hypothesis
Old and new antidepressants
Neurotransmitter transporters
Depression management strategies
Are 'broad spectrum' antidepressants best?

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