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Ann Clin Psychiatry. 2003 Jun;15(2):95-108.

The diverse roles of anticonvulsants in bipolar disorders.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305-5723, USA.


Anticonvulsant drugs (ACs) have diverse antiseizure, psychotropic, and biochemical effects. Carbamazepine and valproate have mood-stabilizing actions, benzodiazepines and gabapentin have anxiolytic actions, lamotrigine is useful in rapid cycling and acute treatment and prophylaxis of bipolar depression, and topiramate and zonisamide can yield weight loss. Limited controlled data suggest the carbamazepine keto derivative oxcarbazepine has antimanic effects. A categorical approach to the diverse roles of ACs in bipolar disorders is proposed, using broad categories of ACs, on the basis of their predominant psychotropic profiles. Thus, some ACs have "sedating" profiles that may include sedation, cognitive difficulties, fatigue, weight gain, and possibly antimanic and/or anxiolytic effects. In contrast, some newer ACs have "activating" profiles that may include improved energy, weight loss, and possibly antidepressant and even anxiogenic effects. Still other newer ACs have novel "mixed" profiles, combining sedation and weight loss. A categorical-mechanistic extension of this approach is also presented, with hypotheses that "sedating" profiles might be related to prominent potentiation of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) inhibitory neurotransmission, "activating" profiles could be related to prominent attenuation of glutamate excitatory neurotransmission, and for "mixed" profiles, sedation and weight loss might be related to concurrent GABAergic and antiglutamatergic actions, respectively. The categorical approach may have utility as an aid to clinicians in reinforcing the heterogeneity ACs, and recalling psychotropic profiles of individual ACs, but is limited as it fails to address the etiology of the heterogeneity of AC psychotropic effects. The categorical-mechanistic extension strives to address this issue, but requires systematic clinical investigation of more precise relationships between psychotropic profiles and discrete mechanisms of action to assess its merits.

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