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Biol Psychiatry. 1998 Aug 1;44(3):193-206.

Sensitization and kindling phenomena in mood, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders: the role of serotonergic mechanisms in illness progression.

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  • 1Biological Psychiatry Branch, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1272, USA.


A number of untreated or inadequately treated psychiatric illnesses often demonstrate syndrome progression manifested by either increasing frequency, severity, or spontaneity of episodes. Behavioral sensitization to psychomotor stimulants (and its cross sensitization to stress) and electrophysiological kindling provide two very different models for conceptualizing physiological and behavioral abnormalities that progress in severity in response to the same inducing stimulation over time. These models are highly indirect, and the behaviors induced and specific pharmacologic interventions do not directly parallel those in many of these psychiatric syndromes. Nonetheless, these preclinical models help us conceptualize potential mechanisms involved in syndrome progression based on experience-dependent modifications of the genome at the level of transcriptional regulation. In both preclinical models, agents that are effective in the earlier developmental phase of sensitization or kindling are not necessarily effective in amelioration of the full-blown syndromes, and vice versa. Thus these models also suggest a variety of intervention principles that can be directly tested in the clinic, such as differential efficacy of treatment as a function of stage of evolution of the given syndrome. Although serotonergic mechanisms do not appear central to the basic phenomena of sensitization and kindling, they appear capable of modulating their development and severity. As such, it becomes of considerable importance to assess whether serotonergic mechanisms that have been implicated in acute treatment of mood and anxiety syndromes are also involved in the longitudinal course and prevention of syndrome progression or occurrence. Identification of the more precise molecular mechanisms involved might provide a target for new therapeutic approaches to these recurrent and potentially disabling major psychiatric illnesses.

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