Pathophysiology of seasonal affective disorder: a review

J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2000 Nov;25(5):469-80.


The study of the pathophysiology of seasonal affective disorder (SAD, also known as winter depression) has historically been intimately linked to investigations into the mechanisms of action of light therapy. This paper reviews the studies on the pathophysiology of SAD with emphasis on circadian, neurotransmitter, and genetic hypotheses. There is substantial evidence for circadian phase shift and serotonergic hypotheses, but conflicting results may indicate that SAD is a biologically heterogeneous condition. Recent progress in defining the molecular mechanisms of the human circadian clock and retinal phototransduction of light will provide important new directions for future studies of the etiology and pathophysiology of SAD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / physiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / genetics
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / psychology


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Melatonin