Receptor sensitivity and the mechanism of action of antidepressant treatment. Implications for the etiology and therapy of depression

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1981 Oct;38(10):1160-80. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.1981.01780350094011.


Considerable evidence suggests that the acute effects of antidepressant treatments on brain norepinephrine (NE) and serotonin (5-HT) systems cannot account fully for their delayed therapeutic action. This review evaluates the effects of long-term antidepressant treatment on biogenic amine metabolism and on various indexes of presynaptic and postsynaptic receptor function. In contrast to variable effects on NE and 5-HT turnover and on presynaptic receptor sensitivity almost all long-term antidepressant treatments produce consistent alterations in a number of measures of postsynaptic amine receptor sensitivity. Long-term treatment has been found to reduce beta-adrenergic sensitivity while enhancing responses to serotonergic and alpha-adrenergic stimulation, suggesting that modulation of receptor sensitivity may be a mechanism of action common to tricyclic antidepressants, "atypical" antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and electroconvulsive therapy. These findings provide support for hypotheses of amine receptor abnormalities in depression and indicate the need for expanded studies of amine receptor function in patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / pharmacology
  • Brain Chemistry / drug effects
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / metabolism
  • Electrophysiology
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Care
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism
  • Receptors, Adrenergic / drug effects
  • Receptors, Adrenergic / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Serotonin / drug effects
  • Receptors, Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Serotonin / metabolism


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Receptors, Adrenergic
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Norepinephrine