Dopamine and Depression

  • P. Willner
Part of the Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology book series (HEP, volume 154 / 2)


Depression has been described as “the common cold of psychiatry”. Unlike the common cold, the symptoms of depression may vary greatly from patient to patient, so much so that two patients diagnosed as suffering from a major depression may show no overlap in their symptoms (Fibiger 1991). In these circumstances, it is prudent, when attempting to understand this protean disorder, to focus on its cardinal symptoms, which are (1) depressed mood and (2) loss of interest or pleasure in usually pleasurable activities (American Psychiatric Association 1994). These symptoms are associated with characteristic abnormalities in the way in which depressed people process information. On the one hand, their cognitions and perceptions are biased towards the pessimistic: they selectively abstract and remember information consistent with a negative view of themselves, their place in the world, and the future (Beck 1987). On the other hand, they think and act more slowly, and experience particular difficulty in initiating actions (Willner 1985; Bermanzohn and Siris 1992). A simple hypothesis to explain both of these central features of depression is that they reflect an impairment of incentive motivation. Incentives are stimuli associated with rewards, which serve to confirm that behaviour is on track to attain its goal and to increase the vigour of goal-directed behaviour (Bindra 1974).


Single Photon Emission Compute Tomography Nucleus Accumbens Depressed Patient Antidepressant Effect Dorsal Striatum 
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  • P. Willner

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