Nosological tunnel vision in biological psychiatry. A plea for a functional psychopathology

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1990;600:501-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1990.tb16905.x.


Classical nosology has been the major cornerstone of biological psychiatric research; finding biological markers and eventually causes of disease entities has been the major goal. Another approach, one we have designated as "functional," seems possible, attempting to correlate biological variables with psychological dysfunctions, the latter being considered to be the basic units of classification in psychopathology. We have pursued this route for many years, and based on the resulting findings we formulated the following hypothesis. Signs of diminished dopamine, serotonine, and noradrenaline metabolism, as have been found in psychiatric disorders, are not disorder-specific, but rather are related to psychopathological dimensions; i.e., hypoactivity/inertia; increased aggression/anxiety and anhedonia, independent of the nosological framework in which these dysfunctions occur (van Praag et al. 1990). In this paper only the 5-HT data have been discussed. Implications of the functional approach for psychiatry are discussed, including a shift from nosological to functional application of psychotropic drugs. Functional psychopharmacology will be dysfunction-oriented and therefore inevitably geared towards utilizing drug combinations. This prospect is hailed as progress, both practically and scientifically.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 5-Hydroxytryptophan / therapeutic use
  • Aggression
  • Biology
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Psychiatry
  • Serotonin / physiology*


  • Serotonin
  • 5-Hydroxytryptophan