Emerging mechanisms and treatments for depression beyond SSRIs and SNRIs

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The monoamine hypothesis has been the prevailing hypothesis of depression over the last several decades. It states that depression is associated with reduced monoamine function. Hence efforts to increase monoamine transmission by inhibiting serotonin (5-HT) and norepinephrine (NE) transporters has been a central theme in depression research since the 1960s. The selective 5-HT reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and 5-HT and NE reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) that have emerged from this line of research are currently first line treatment options for major depressive disorder (MDD). One of the recent trends in antidepressant research has been to refine monoaminergic mechanisms by targeting monoaminergic receptors and additional transporters (e.g. with multimodal drugs and triple re-uptake inhibitors) or by adding atypical antipsychotics to SSRI or SNRI treatment. In addition, several other hypotheses of depression have been brought forward in pre-clinical and clinical research based on biological hallmarks of the disease and efficacy of pharmacological interventions. A central strategy has been to target glutamate receptors (for example, with intravenous infusions of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist ketamine). Other strategies have been based on modulation of cholinergic and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic transmission, neuronal plasticity, stress/hypothalamic pituitary adrenal(HPA)-axis, the reward system and neuroinflammation. Here we review the pharmacological profiles of compounds that derived from these strategies and have been recently tested in clinical trials with published results. In addition, we discuss putative treatments for depression that are being investigated at the preclinical level and outline future directions for antidepressant research.

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