Molecular Neurobiology

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 33–60 | Cite as

A speculative model of affective illness cyclicity based on patterns of drug tolerance observed in amygdala-kindled seizures

  • Robert M. Post
  • Susan R. B. Weiss


In this article, we discuss molecular mechanisms involved in the evolution of amygdala kindling and the episodic loss of response to pharmacological treatments during tolerance development. These phenomena allow us to consider how similar principles (in different neurochemical systems) could account for illness progression, cyclicity, and drug tolerance in affective disorders. We describe the phenomenon of amygdala-kindled seizures episodically breaking through effective daily pharmacotherapy with carbamazepine and valproate, suggesting that these observations could reflect the balance of pathological vs compensatory illness-induced changes in gene expression. Under certain circumstances, amygdala-kindled animals that were initially drug responsive can develop highly individualized patterns of seizure breakthroughs progressing toward a complete loss of drug efficacy. This initial drug efficacy may reflect the combination of drug-related exogenous neurochemical mechanisms and illness-induced endogenous compensatory mechanisms. However, we postulate that when seizures are inhibited, the endogenous illness-induced adaptations dissipate (the “time-off seizure” effect), leading to the re-emergence of seizures, a re-induction of a new, but diminished, set of endogenous compensatory mechanisms, and a temporary period of renewed drug efficacy. As this pattern repeats, an intermittent or cyclic response to the anticonvulsant treatment emerges, leading toward complete drug tolerance.

We also postulate that the cyclic pattern accelerates over time because of both the failure of robust illness-induced endogenous adaptations to emerge and the progression in pathophysiological mechanisms (mediated by long-lasting changes in gene expression and their downstream consequences) as a result of repeated occurrences of seizures. In this seizure model, this pattern can be inhibited and drug responsivity can be temporarily reinstated by several manipulations, including lowering illness drive (decreasing the stimulation current.), increasing drug dosage, switching to a new drug that does not show crosstolerance to the original medication, or temporarily discontinuing treatment, allowing the illness to re-emerge in an unmedicated animal. Each of these variables is discussed in relation to the potential relevance to the emergence, progression, and suppression of individual patterns of episodic cyclicity in the recurrent affective disorders. A variety of clinical studies are outlined that specifically test the hypotheses derived from this formulation. Data from animal studies suggest that illness cyclicity can develop from the relative ratio between primary pathological processes and secondary endogenous adaptations (assisted by exogenous medications). If this proposition is verified, it further suggests that illness cyclicity is inherent to the neurobiological processes of episode emergence and amelioration, and one does not need to postulate a separate defect in the biological clock. The formulation predicts that early and aggressive long-term interventions may be optimal in order to prevent illness emergence and progression and its associated accumulating neurobiological, vulnerability factors.

Index Entries

Manic depressive illness gene expression cyclicity recurrence time-off effect endogenous adaptations contingent tolerance 


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Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert M. Post
    • 1
  • Susan R. B. Weiss
    • 1
  1. 1.Biological Psychiatry BranchNational Institute of Mental HealthBethesda

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