The monoaminergic hypothesis of depression has provided the basis for extensive research into the pathophysiology of mood disorders and has been of great significance for the development of effective antidepressants. Current antidepressant treatments not only increase serotonin and/or noradrenaline bioavailability but also originate adaptive changes increasing synaptic plasticity. Novel approaches to depression and to antidepressant therapy are now focused on intracellular targets that regulate neuroplasticity and cell survival. Accumulating evidence indicates that there is an anatomical substrate for such a devastating neuropsychiatric disease as major depression. Loss of synaptic plasticity and hippocampal atrophy appear to be prominent features of this highly prevalent disorder. A combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental factors make hippocampal neurons more vulnerable to stress. Abundant experimental evidence indicates that stress causes neuronal damage in brain regions, notably in hippocampal subfields. Stress-induced activation of glutamatergic transmission may induce neuronal cell death through excessive stimulation of N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptors. Recent studies mention that the increase of nitric oxide synthesis and inflammation in major depression may contribute to neurotoxicity through NMDA receptor. Both standard antidepressants and NMDA receptor antagonists are able to prevent stress-induced neuronal damage. NMDA antagonists are effective in widely used animal models of depression and some of them appear to be effective also in the few clinical trials performed to date. We are still far from understanding the complex cellular and molecular events involved in mood disorders. There appears to be an emerging role for glutamate neurotransmission in the search for the pathogenesis of major depression. Attenuation of NMDA receptor function mechanism appears to be a promising target in the search for a more effective antidepressant therapy.
Depression, glutamate, NMDA