Depression as a spreading adjustment disorder of monoaminergic neurons: a case for primary implication of the locus coeruleus

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2001 Dec;38(1-2):79-128. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(01)00082-0.


A model for the pathophysiology of depression is discussed in the context of other existing theories. The classic monoamine theory of depression suggests that a deficit in monoamine neurotransmitters in the synaptic cleft is the primary cause of depression. More recent elaborations of the classic theory also implicitly include this postulate, other theories of depression frequently prefer to depart from the monoamine-based model altogether. We suggest that the primary defect emerges in the regulation of firing rates in brainstem monoaminergic neurons, which brings about a decrease in the tonic release of neurotransmitters in their projection areas, an increase in postsynaptic sensitivity, and concomitantly, exaggerated responses to acute increases in the presynaptic firing rate and transmitter release. It is proposed that the initial defect involves, in particular, the noradrenergic innervation from the locus coeruleus (LC). Dysregulation of the LC projection activities may lead in turn to dysregulation of serotonergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission. Failure of the LC function could explain the basic impairments in the processing of novel information, intensive processing of irrational beliefs, and anxiety. Concomitant impairments in the serotonergic neurotransmission may contribute to the mood changes and reduction in the mesotelencephalic dopaminergic activity to loss of motivation, and anhedonia. Dysregulation of CRF and other neuropeptides such as neuropeptide Y, galanin and substance P may reinforce the LC dysfunction and thus further weaken the adaptivity to stressful stimuli.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biogenic Monoamines / metabolism*
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Locus Coeruleus / physiopathology*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission


  • Biogenic Monoamines
  • Neurotransmitter Agents