Major depression is one of the leading causes of premature death and disability. Although available drugs are effective, they also have substantial limitations. Recent advances in our understanding of the fundamental links between chronobiology and major mood disorders, as well as the development of new drugs that target the circadian system, have led to a renewed focus on this area. In this review, we summarise the associations between disrupted chronobiology and major depression and outline new antidepressant treatment strategies that target the circadian system. In particular, we highlight agomelatine, a melatonin-receptor agonist and selective serotonergic receptor subtype (ie, 5-HT(2C)) antagonist that has chronobiotic, antidepressant, and anxiolytic effects. In the short-term, agomelatine has similar antidepressant efficacy to venlafaxine, fluoxetine, and sertraline and, in the longer term, fewer patients on agomelatine relapse (23·9%) than do those receiving placebo (50·0%). Patients with depression treated with agomelatine report improved sleep quality and reduced waking after sleep onset. As agomelatine does not raise serotonin levels, it has less potential for the common gastrointestinal, sexual, or metabolic side-effects that characterise many other antidepressant compounds.
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