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Chronobiological theories of mood disorder


Major depressive disorder (MDD) remains the most prevalent mental disorder and a leading cause of disability, affecting approximately 100 million adults worldwide. The disorder is characterized by a constellation of symptoms affecting mood, anxiety, neurochemical balance, sleep patterns, and circadian and/or seasonal rhythm entrainment. However, the mechanisms underlying the association between chronobiological parameters and depression remain unknown. A PubMed search was conducted to review articles from 1979 to the present, using the following search terms: “chronobiology,” “mood,” “sleep,” and “circadian rhythms.” We aimed to synthesize the literature investigating chronobiological theories of mood disorders. Current treatments primarily include tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are known to increase extracellular concentrations of monoamine neurotransmitters. However, these antidepressants do not treat the sleep disturbances or circadian and/or seasonal rhythm dysfunctions associated with depressive disorders. Several theories associating sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances with depression have been proposed. Current evidence supports the existence of associations between these, but the direction of causality remains elusive. Given the existence of chronobiological disturbances in depression and evidence regarding their treatment in improving depression, a chronobiological approach, including timely use of light and melatonin agonists, could complement the treatment of MDD.

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Fig. 1

Acknowledgment (publisher: John Wiley and Sons): Figure reprinted with permission from Borbély et al. 51. Copyright 2016. European Sleep Research Society. (License Number: 4180310623590 dated Sept 01, 2017)


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Correspondence to Nevin F. W. Zaki.

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Zaki, N.F.W., Spence, D.W., BaHammam, A.S. et al. Chronobiological theories of mood disorder. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 268, 107–118 (2018).

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  • Chronobiology
  • Circadian rhythm
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Mood disorder
  • Light environment
  • Melatonin