Effects of Antidepressants on Biochemistry in the Brain Term Paper

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Anti-Depressants -- Brain Chemistry

The Effects Of Anti-depressants

in the human brain


Before commencing on the examination as to how anti-depressants affect brain chemistry, it would be best to first explore the biology of depression itself. As Prentiss Price relates, the "biological causes of clinical depression continue to be studied extensively. Great progress has been made in the understanding of brain function, the influence of neurotransmitters and hormones, and other biological processes, as well as how they may relate to the development of depression" (2004, Internet). With this in mind, it appears that hormones play a crucial role in the creation of depression and how anti-depressants affect the biochemistry of the human brain.

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In recent times, numerous studies have shown that people who are depressed have abnormal amounts of certain hormones in their blood. Researchers believe that an increase or decrease in the production of specific hormones may interfere with the brain's natural chemistry which then leads to depression. With the exception of thyroid hormones, the levels of other hormones are not routinely measured when diagnosing or treating depression; thus, when a person is experiencing specific types of depression, it is advisable to check the levels of other hormones within the body. Thyroid glands, when not functioning properly, can result in the release of either too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism). Either condition can lead to depression, yet it tends to be more common with hypothyroidism.

Term Paper on Effects of Antidepressants on Biochemistry in the Brain Assignment

Adrenal glands also play a key role in depression, for studies have shown that those experiencing depression may have too much of the adrenal hormone cortisol in their blood. Excess cortisol can directly alter brain function and the brain's natural balance of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. In addition, "the hypothalamus which regulates hormone secretion, produces and releases small proteins (peptides) that act on the pituitary gland at the base of the brain" (Dunn, 1989, 67).

These peptides stimulate or inhibit the glandular release of various hormones into the bloodstream. When this occurs, the brain recognizes a potential threat and alerts the HPA axis, being the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. Thus, many who suffer from depression exhibit an increase in the activity of the HPA axis which subsequently causes stress levels to rise and then disrupts the brain's natural chemistry which increases the risk for depression.


For the most part, what is currently known about the biological and chemical basis of depression came about after an effective medication had been, in some cases, discovered by accident. Thus, by attempting to figure out where in the human brain these medications are active and what they do to brain chemistry, new clues have arisen concerning the location and function of the affected mechanisms for depression.

Further research soon led to more anti-depressant medications that at first seemed to have little effect on the norepinephrine system (i.e. A group of neurotransmitters known as neuroamines). The most common anti-depressant medication used today is fluoxetine (Prozac), a powerful inhibitor of the re-uptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Other anti-depressants seem to affect other neurotransmitters, especially dopamine. As a result of these discoveries, the earlier amine hypothesis which stated that "an abnormally low level of norepinephrine caused depression," was greatly revised and led to a new hypothesis that depression is regulated by a complex interplay of several chemical circuits in the brain. Currently, "it is thought that the interplay of activity among all the systems is disrupted in depression" (Davis, 1984, 156).

In regard to lithium as an important anti-depressant, much effort has gone into trying to ascertain the site of lithium's activity in the brain and its effect on brain chemistry. Lithium does not appear to affect neuroamine levels like other anti-depressants and it does not interact with neuroamine receptors or the re-uptake mechanisms. Only within the last few years has the probable site of lithium action been found, namely at a different cellular level -- inside the neurons themselves instead of the synapses.


In most of those suffering from depression, the use of tricyclic anti-depressants is the most widely prescribed. Although other medications have been effective on… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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