Drug-induced actions on brain neurotransmitter systems and changes in the behaviors and emotions of depressed patients

Martin M. Katz, James W. Maas, Alan Frazer, Stephen H. Koslow, Charles L. Bowden, Nancy Berman, Alan C. Swann, Peter E. Stokes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Despite cumulative evidence that the tricyclic drugs result in significant changes in the functioning of brain serotonergic (5-HT) and nordrenergic (NE) systems, such changes have not been found to be associated with recovery from depression. Based upon evidence that the 5-HT and NE systems were associated with different emotions, it was hypothesized that changes in these systems were associated with different components of behavior in drug-responsive patients and not with changes in the '"whole" disorder. Findings from this multihospital study of 104 unipolar and bipolar depressed patients showed early drug-associated reductions in anxiety and hostility in treatment responders to precede changes in motor retardation and depressed mood. Adopting this approach of looking for relationships between changes in components of major depression and changes in neurotransmitter system function, decreases in 5-HT and NE metabolite concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in patients treated with tricyclics, were found to be correlated with changes in specific behaviors. Results indicated the following: (1) drug-induced changes in the 5-HT system to be associated with mood aspects, notably anxiety, and depressed mood; changes in NE primarily with the psychomotor, secondarily with the mood components of the depressed state; (2) the pattern of relationships between changes in 5-HT and in mood in the unipolar was different than that in the bipolar subtype. The results indicate that in detennining the relationships of biochemical changes to behavioral ones, that it is important to take into account the type of depression (bipolar or unipolar), as well as examining individually and over time those components that make up the disorder of depression. These results support evidence that tricyclics have multiple behavioral actions, that response is mediated through changes in specific behaviors and that this approach warrants further application in prospective studies of antidepressant drug mechanisms and their therapeutic actions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-100
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1994


  • Antidepressants
  • Anxiety
  • Behavior
  • Csf metabolites
  • Neurotransmitters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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