Rhythms and blues: modulation of oscillatory synchrony and the mechanism of action of antidepressant treatments

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2015 May;1344(1):78-91. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12742. Epub 2015 Mar 23.


Treatments for major depressive disorder (MDD) act at different hierarchical levels of biological complexity, ranging from the individual synapse to the brain as a whole. Theories of antidepressant medication action traditionally have focused on the level of cell-to-cell interaction and synaptic neurotransmission. However, recent evidence suggests that modulation of synchronized electrical activity in neuronal networks is a common effect of antidepressant treatments, including not only medications, but also neuromodulatory treatments such as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. Synchronization of oscillatory network activity in particular frequency bands has been proposed to underlie neurodevelopmental and learning processes, and also may be important in the mechanism of action of antidepressant treatments. Here, we review current research on the relationship between neuroplasticity and oscillatory synchrony, which suggests that oscillatory synchrony may help mediate neuroplastic changes related to neurodevelopment, learning, and memory, as well as medication and neuromodulatory treatment for MDD. We hypothesize that medication and neuromodulation treatments may have related effects on the rate and pattern of neuronal firing, and that these effects underlie antidepressant efficacy. Elucidating the mechanisms through which oscillatory synchrony may be related to neuroplasticity could lead to enhanced treatment strategies for MDD.

Keywords: antidepressant medication; antidepressant treatment; biomarkers; biosignatures; intermediate phenotype; major depressive disorder; mechanism of action; neuromodulation; oscillations; oscillatory synchrony; quantitative electroencephalography; thalamocortical dysrhythmia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks*
  • Cell Communication*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / pathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Nerve Net / pathology
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Synaptic Transmission*