Monoaminergic function in the pathogenesis of seasonal affective disorder

Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2001 Dec;4(4):409-20. doi: 10.1017/S1461145701002644.


Seasonal affective disorder/winter type (SAD) is characterized by recurrent depressive episodes during autumn and winter alternating with non-depressive episodes during spring and summer. Light therapy with full-spectrum, bright white light has been shown to be effective for this condition. Several hypotheses have been discussed in the literature about the pathogenesis of SAD. The most prominent includes disturbances in central monoaminergic transmission. Evidence can be inferred from studies showing a seasonal rhythm of central and peripheral serotonergic functioning which may be a predisposing factor for SAD. Some of the symptoms of SAD are believed to represent an attempt to overcome a putative deficit in brain serotonergic transmission. Moreover, 5-HT receptor challenge studies suggest altered activity at or downstream to central 5-HT receptors. Monoamine depletion studies support hypotheses about serotonergic and catecholaminergic dysfunctions in SAD and suggest that light therapy may well compensate for this underlying deficit. Further, albeit indirect, support for the importance of monoaminergic mechanisms in SAD and its involvement in the mechanism of the action of light therapy comes from studies showing antidepressant efficacy of serotonergic and noradrenergic antidepressants in the treatment of SAD. Altogether, disturbances in brain monoaminergic transmission seem to play a key role in the pathogenesis of SAD; monoaminergic systems may also play an important role in the mechanisms of the action of light therapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biogenic Monoamines / metabolism*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Catecholamines / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / metabolism*
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / pathology
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / therapy
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Serotonin / physiology
  • Serotonin Agents / pharmacology
  • Tryptophan / physiology


  • Biogenic Monoamines
  • Catecholamines
  • Serotonin Agents
  • Serotonin
  • Tryptophan