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Biol Psychiatry. 2003 Apr 15;53(8):707-42.

Enhancing neuronal plasticity and cellular resilience to develop novel, improved therapeutics for difficult-to-treat depression.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-4405, USA.


There is growing evidence from neuroimaging and ostmortem studies that severe mood disorders, which have traditionally been conceptualized as neurochemical disorders, are associated with impairments of structural plasticity and cellular resilience. It is thus noteworthy that recent preclinical studies have shown that critical molecules in neurotrophic signaling cascades (most notably cyclic adenosine monophosphate [cAMP] response element binding protein, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, bcl-2, and mitogen activated protein [MAP] kinases) are long-term targets for antidepressant agents and antidepressant potentiating modalities. This suggests that effective treatments provide both trophic and neurochemical support, which serves to enhance and maintainnormal synaptic connectivity, thereby allowing the chemical signal to reinstate the optimal functioning of critical circuits necessary for normal affective functioning. For many refractory patients, drugs mimicking "traditional" strategies, which directly or indirectly alter monoaminergic levels, may be of limited benefit. Newer "plasticity enhancing" strategies that may have utility in the treatment of refractory depression include N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonists, alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole propionate (AMPA) potentiators, cAMP phosphodiesterase inhibitors, and glucocorticoid receptor antagonists. Small-molecule agents that regulate the activity f growth factors, MAP kinases cascades, and the bcl-2 family of proteins are also promising future avenues. The development of novel, nonaminergic-based therapeutics holds much promise for improved treatment of severe, refractory mood disorders.

Copyright 2003 Society of Biological Psychiatry

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