Isotretinoin and the controversy of psychiatric adverse effects

Int J Dermatol. 2006 Jul;45(7):789-99. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2006.02660.x.


Isotretinoin is a synthetic oral retinoid that has great efficacy against severe, recalcitrant, nodulocystic acne. Since its introduction to the market, it has been associated with a variety of adverse psychiatric effects, including depression, psychosis, mood swings, violent behavior, suicide, and suicide attempts. A MEDLINE review was performed to compile all case reports, case series, adverse drug event reportings, and prospective and retrospective studies relating psychiatric adverse events to isotretinoin. In addition, literature linking a biological mechanism for psychiatric adverse events to retinoid signaling pathways was also reviewed. Although a variety of anecdotal and epidemiologic studies are available, the overall lack of concrete scientific data limits any conclusion that can be drawn about a causal relationship between istotretinoin and psychiatric adverse events. Several lines of evidence link retinoid signaling to theorized psychiatric pathogenesis, but are limited in their applicability to adult neurophysiology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy
  • Acne Vulgaris / psychology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Dermatologic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Dermatologic Agents / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Isotretinoin / adverse effects*
  • Isotretinoin / pharmacology
  • Mental Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / physiology


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid
  • Isotretinoin