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Med Clin North Am. 1988 Jul;72(4):765-90.

Biology of depression.

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  • 1Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.


Research over the past three decades has led to a greater understanding of the biologic basis of depression. Observations that certain medications could improve or worsen mood led to the development of hypotheses describing the possible role of specific neurotransmitters in the brain in depression. Modifications of these original hypotheses focused on altered receptor function, failures in the regulation of neurotransmitter systems, and interactions of the monoamines with cholinergic systems. Strategies using endocrinologic measurements in the evaluation of the depressed patient have provided researchers with new clues regarding disordered neuroendocrine function in depression and clinicians with new tests to aid in diagnosis and management. Moreover, the development of standardized sleep EEG methodology has proven useful for the identification of characteristic sleep abnormalities in depression. Although there are many methodologic and clinical problems still to be resolved, the use of biological markers in the assessment of the depressed patient is increasing, and is likely to be of significant importance in the future. Finally, recent advances in molecular genetics hold promise for further advances in our understanding of the inheritance and biochemistry of depression.

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