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October 1981

Receptor Sensitivity and the Mechanism of Action of Antidepressant Treatment: Implications for the Etiology and Therapy of Depression

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Psychiatry (Drs Charney and Heninger and Mr Menkes) and Pharmacology (Mr Menkes), Yale University School of Medicine and the Connecticut Mental Health Center, New Haven.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1981;38(10):1160-1180. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1981.01780350094011

• Considerable evidence suggests that the acute effects of antidepressant treatments on brain norepinephrine (NE) and serotonin (5-HT) systems cannot account fully for their delayed therapeutic action. This review evaluates the effects of long-term antidepressant treatment on biogenic amine metabolism and on various indexes of presynaptic and postsynaptic receptor function. In contrast to variable effects on NE and 5-HT turnover and on presynaptic receptor sensitivity, almost all long-term antidepressant treatments produce consistent alterations in a number of measures of postsynaptic amine receptor sensitivity. Longterm treatment has been found to reduce β-adrenergic sensitivity while enhancing responses to serotonergic and α-adrenergic stimulation, suggesting that modulation of receptor sensitivity may be a mechanism of action common to tricyclic antidepressants, "atypical" antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and electroconvulsive therapy. These findings provide support for hypotheses of amine receptor abnormalities in depression and indicate the need for expanded studies of amine receptor function in patients.