How antidepressants unfold their action

In a healthy person, neurotransmitters are in a well-balanced relation.

The human brain consists of billions of neurons that constantly transmit and process signals.

The signals are transmitted as electrical currents through the nerve pathways. All neurons are interconnected through contact points, known as synapses.

With the help of neurotransmitters, signals are transmitted from one neuron to the next through these synoptic contact points.

When an electrical impulse touches the presynaptic neuron (the neuron that is placed in front of the synapse), the neuron releases neurotransmitters into the synoptic gap, a microscopically small hole. These messenger substances move on to the neurons that are situated after the synapse, know as the postsynaptic neurons, where they attach themselves to receptors, thus releasing an electrical impulse.

In a healthy person, the neurotransmitters are present in a well-balanced relation. In case of a depression, the balance between neurotransmitters is disturbed, which can lead to a depressive mood, lack of motivation or sleep disturbances.

In particular with depressive people, it can lead to a reduced activity of the particular neurons that are responsible for transmitting serotonin, noradrenalin and dopamine. Medication used for treating depression (antidepressants) helps to increase the concentration of these neurotransmitters in the synapses. However, this process requires time, which is the reason why it can last a few days to a few weeks after beginning the therapy before the balance between the neurotransmitters is re-established, and before depressive symptoms subside.

Text: Helga Grafe – 11/2015
Translation from German: MyH – 06/2016

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