The Biology of Antidepressants

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  • Session A: July 10 - July 22, 2017
  • Session B: July 24 - August 5, 2017


  • 9:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.


  • Sciences


  • Matthew Stetz
One year of high school Biology is recommended.

Antidepressants are widely prescribed to treat major depressive disorder but their clinical efficacy is highly variable. Part of this may stem from the fact that they were developed without a comprehensive mechanistic understanding of how they actually work. However, in recent years, scientists have finally begun to elucidate the functional properties of antidepressants at the level of detail required for improving their design. This module will introduce students to the biology of antidepressants, focusing on various aspects of their history, development, and biochemical mechanism.

We will begin with a discussion of the clinical definition of depression and the unusual serendipitous discovery of the first antidepressants. We will then focus on the basic principles of how modern antidepressants were developed and how they are currently thought to work. Particular emphasis will be placed on the biochemical and biophysical concepts underlying neurotransmission and protein-drug interactions. We will conclude with a brief introduction to some very recent preclinical studies toward improving antidepressants and a discussion of how these studies can be used in the development of new drugs.

By the end of the module students will:

  • Learn the fundamental concepts of neurotransmission
  • Gain a thorough understanding of how antidepressants work to modulate neurotransmission
  • Learn how preclinical research is used in the drug design/development process
  • Develop critical thinking skills that will allow them to critique scientific studies in a rational, informed, and unbiased manner

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