Mechanisms of rapid antidepressant effects of sleep deprivation therapy: clock genes and circadian rhythms

Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Jun 15;73(12):1164-71. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.07.020. Epub 2012 Aug 18.


A significant subset of both major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder patients rapidly (within 24 hours) and robustly improves with the chronotherapeutic intervention of sleep deprivation therapy (SDT). Major mood disorder patients are reported to have abnormal circadian rhythms including temperature, hormonal secretion, mood, and particularly sleep. These rhythms are modulated by the clock gene machinery and its products. It is hypothesized that SDT resets abnormal clock gene machinery, that relapse of depressive symptoms during recovery night sleep reactivates abnormal clock gene machinery, and that supplemental chronotherapies and medications can block relapse and help stabilize circadian-related improvement. The central circadian clock genes, BMAL1/CLOCK (NPAS2), bind to Enhancer Boxes to initiate the transcription of circadian genes, including the period genes (per1, per2, per3). It is suggested that a defect in BMAL1/CLOCK (NPAS2) or in the Enhancer Box binding contributes to altered circadian function associated, in part, with the period genes. The fact that chronotherapies, including SDT and sleep phase advance, are dramatically effective suggests that altered clock gene machinery may represent a core pathophysiological defect in a subset of mood disorder patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • CLOCK Proteins / genetics*
  • Circadian Rhythm / drug effects*
  • Circadian Rhythm / genetics
  • Depression / genetics
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Sleep Deprivation / drug therapy*
  • Sleep Deprivation / genetics


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • CLOCK Proteins