Novel drugs and therapeutic targets for severe mood disorders

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008 Aug;33(9):2080-92. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1301652. Epub 2008 Jan 2.


Monoaminergic-based drugs remain the primary focus of pharmaceutical industry drug discovery efforts for mood disorders, despite serious limitations regarding their ability to achieve remission. The quest for novel therapies for unipolar depression and bipolar disorder has generally centered on two complementary approaches: (1) understanding the presumed therapeutically relevant biochemical targets of currently available medications, and using that knowledge to design new drugs directed at both direct biochemical targets and downstream targets that are regulated by chronic drug administration; and (2) developing pathophysiological models of the illness to design therapeutics to attenuate or prevent those pathological processes. This review describes several promising drugs and drug targets for mood disorders using one or both of these approaches. Agents interacting with non-catecholamine neurotransmitter systems with particular promise for unipolar and bipolar depression include excitatory amino acid neurotransmitter modulators (eg, riluzole, N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonists, and AMPA receptor potentiators) and neuropeptide antagonists (targeting corticotropin releasing factor-1 and neurokinin receptors). Potential antidepressant and mood-stabilizing agents targeting common intracellular pathways of known monoaminergic agents and lithium/mood stabilizers are also reviewed, such as neurotrophic factors, extracellular receptor-coupled kinase (ERK) mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase and the bcl-2 family of proteins, and inhibitors of phosphodiesterase, glycogen synthase kinase-3, and protein kinase C. A major thrust of drug discovery in mood disorders will continue efforts to identify agents with rapid and sustained onsets of action (such as intravenous administration of ketamine), as well as identify drugs used routinely in non-psychiatric diseases for their antidepressant and mood-stabilizing properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimanic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antimanic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Brain Chemistry / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Mood Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Antimanic Agents
  • Neurotransmitter Agents