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Front Psychiatry. 2015 Aug 24;6:118. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00118. eCollection 2015.

Circadian Rhythms and Mood Disorders: Are the Phenomena and Mechanisms Causally Related?

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Department of Philosophy and Center for Circadian Biology, University of California San Diego , San Diego, CA , USA.


This paper reviews some of the compelling evidence of disrupted circadian rhythms in individuals with mood disorders (major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and bipolar disorder) and that treatments such as bright light, designed to alter circadian rhythms, are effective in treating these disorders. Neurotransmitters in brain regions implicated in mood regulation exhibit circadian rhythms. A mouse model originally employed to identify a circadian gene has proven a potent model for mania. While this evidence is suggestive of an etiological role for altered circadian rhythms in mood disorders, it is compatible with other explanations, including that disrupted circadian rhythms and mood disorders are effects of a common cause and that genes and proteins implicated in both simply have pleiotropic effects. In light of this, the paper advances a proposal as to what evidence would be needed to establish a direct causal link between disruption of circadian rhythms and mood disorders.


causal relations between mechanisms; circadian rhythms; mechanistic explanations; mood disorders

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