Neurobiology of anxiety and depression

Meccanismi neurobiologici nei disturbi d'ansia e del tono dell'umore

G. Biggio

Centro di Eccellenza per la Neurobiologia delle Dipendenze, Università di Cagliari

Neuronal plasticity is the ability of nerve cells to acquire information from the external world and to process them in order to obtain responses adequate to the stimulus. Emotional and pharmacological stimuli as well as hormonal changes induce both morphological and functional modifications of nerve cells, an event appearing as an increase or a decrease in dendritic spines. Alterations of neuronal plasticity have been associated to long-term therapeutic effects of several antipsychotic drugs and to vulnerability to mental illnesses.

Pharmacological and pathological adaptive mechanisms contributing to neuronal plasticity include neurogenesis and synthesis of specific trophic factors. The evidence that the neuronal response to a drug translates into rapid and persistent functional modifications focused the attention of researchers on the relevance of prescribed therapy in attaining stable and sustained cerebral levels of the drug. This concept is of paramount importance in order to achieve rapidly a perfect functional equilibrium of the neurons and a better adherence to therapy. In fact, the optimal achievement of these mechanisms will allow a substantial advancement in the development of more effective therapeutic protocols, with greater patient compliance.