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Pharmacopsychiatry. 1998 Mar;31(2):60-7.

Are psychoactive-drug-induced changes in plasma lipid and lipoprotein levels of significance for clinical remission in psychiatric disorders?

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Heidelberg, Germany.


In the present pilot study, our aim was to investigate whether associations could be demonstrated in psychiatric patients between the changes in plasma lipid and lipoprotein levels expected during treatment with psychoactive drugs and the changes in the patients' depressive and hostile behavior. One hundred and fourteen patients with various psychiatric disorders (depressive episode in bipolar affective disorder, depressive episode or recurrent depressive disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorders) were included in the study. The following examinations were carried out in each patient on admission and at discharge: (1) the plasma lipid parameters total cholesterol (TC), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides (TRI) were determined, and (2) the psychopathological features were recorded employing the AMDP system and the AMDP Syndrome Scales. Within the context of a naturalistic clinical setting with a choice of psychoactive drugs available, patients were subdivided at the end of treatment into eight treatment groups, as follows: group 1, treatment with butyrophenones; group 2, treatment with tricyclics; group 3, treatment with butyrophenones and tricyclics; group 4, treatment with butyrophenones, tricyclics and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors; group 5, treatment with butyrophenones and lithium; group 6, treatment with tricyclics and lithium; group 7, treatment with butyrophenones, tricyclics and lithium; and group 8, treatment with butyrophenones, tricyclics, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and lithium. To compare the changes in the eight treatment groups, mixed general linear models including diagnosis, gender, age, body mass index changes, and baseline values were applied using proc GLM of SAS. Butyrophenones induce an increase in TC, LDL, and TC/TRI ratio, whereas tricyclics lead to an increase in TC, LDL, VLDL, and TRI. In combined medication of butyrophenones and tricyclics the effects of tricyclics predominate. Comedication of lithium inhibits the increase in TC and LDL induced by butyrophenones and/or tricyclics. Treatment groups with lipid changes of the same type (decrease, no change, or increase) were combined in "lipid change groups". Analyses of variance or covariance (with psychopathological admission value as covariate where there were significant differences in psychopathological admission mean values between the groups) of these lipid change groups with regard to the changes in the Depressive Syndrome Scale and the Hostility Syndrome Scale gave results which are interpreted as follows: an increase in TC or LDL inhibits the remission of hostility, whereas an increase in TRI with concomitant decrease in TC, or else a relatively greater increase in TRI than in TC promotes the remission of hostility. A decrease in TRI or VLDL promotes the remission of depression. Our data and findings published in the literature may suggest that systemic changes in plasma lipid parameters, at the cellular level, induce changes in the fluidity of brain cell membranes. We hypothesize that an increase in plasma TC or LDL and/or a decrease in plasma TRI or VLDL may induce a relative decrease in brain cell membrane fluidity with decreased presynaptic serotonin reuptake and increased postsynaptic serotonin function. This proposed increase in brain serotonin function would finally result in an anti-depressive, aggression-promoting effect. Conversely, a decrease in plasma TC or LDL and/or an increase in plasma TRI or VLDL may induce a relative increase in brain cell membrane fluidity with increased presynaptic serotonin reuptake and decreased postsynaptic serotonin function. This proposed decrease in brain serotonin function would result in an anti-aggressive, depression-promoting effect.

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