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Neuronal Network Plasticity and Recovery From Depression

Eero Castrén, MD, PhD1
[+] Author Affiliations
1Neuroscience Center, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(9):983-989. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.1.
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The brain processes sensory information in neuronal networks that are shaped by experience, particularly during early life, to optimally represent the internal and external milieu. Recent surprising findings have revealed that antidepressant drugs reactivate a window of juvenile-like plasticity in the adult cortex. When antidepressant-induced plasticity was combined with appropriate rehabilitation, it brought about a functional recovery of abnormally wired neuronal networks. These observations suggest that antidepressants act permissively to facilitate environmental influence on neuronal network reorganization and so provide a plausible neurobiological explanation for the enhanced effect of combining antidepressant treatment with psychotherapy. The results emphasize that pharmacological and psychological treatments of mood disorders are closely entwined: the effect of antidepressant-induced plasticity is facilitated by rehabilitation, such as psychotherapy, that guides the plastic networks, and psychotherapy benefits from the enhanced plasticity provided by the drug treatment. Optimized combinations of pharmacological and psychological treatments might help make best use of existing antidepressant drugs and reduce the number of treatment-resistant patients. The network hypothesis of antidepressant action presented here proposes that recovery from depression and related mood disorders is a gradual process that develops slowly and is facilitated by structured guidance and rehabilitation.

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