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Am J Psychiatry. 2003 Jan;160(1):90-9.

Dysfunctional attitudes and 5-HT2 receptors during depression and self-harm.

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  • 1Vivian M. Rakoff PET Imaging Centre, Clarke Division, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, 250 College St., Toronto, ON, M5T 1R8, Canada.



Dysfunctional attitudes are negatively biased assumptions and beliefs regarding oneself, the world, and the future. In healthy subjects, increasing serotonin (5-HT) agonism with a single dose of d-fenfluramine lowered dysfunctional attitudes. To investigate whether the converse, a low level of 5-HT agonism, could account for the higher levels of dysfunctional attitudes observed in patients with major depression or with self-injurious behavior, cortex 5-HT(2) receptor binding potential and dysfunctional attitudes were measured in patients with major depressive disorder, patients with a history of self-injurious behavior, and healthy comparison subjects (5-HT(2) receptor density increases during 5-HT depletion).


Twenty-nine healthy subjects were recruited to evaluate the effect of d-fenfluramine or of clonidine (control condition) on dysfunctional attitudes. Dysfunctional attitudes were assessed with the Dysfunctional Attitude Scale 1 hour before and 1 hour after drug administration. In a second experiment, dysfunctional attitudes and 5-HT(2) binding potential were measured in 22 patients with a major depressive episode secondary to major depressive disorder, 18 patients with a history of self-injurious behavior occurring outside of a depressive episode, and another 29 age-matched healthy subjects. Cortex 5-HT(2) binding potential was measured with [(18)F]setoperone positron emission tomography.


In the first experiment, dysfunctional attitudes decreased after administration of d-fenfluramine. In the second experiment, in the depressed group, dysfunctional attitudes were positively associated with cortex 5-HT(2) binding potential, especially in Brodmann's area 9 (after adjustment for age). Depressed subjects with extremely dysfunctional attitudes had higher 5-HT(2) binding potential, compared to healthy subjects, particularly in Brodmann's area 9.


Low levels of 5-HT agonism in the brain cortex may explain the severely pessimistic, dysfunctional attitudes associated with major depression.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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