Catherine Harmer

Professor Catherine Harmer.

The Think-Tank seminar series

The cognitive neuropsychology of antidepressant drug action


Professor Catherine Harmer, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.

Date and time

12:00 -13:00, 2 May 2014


The neurochemical actions of antidepressant drug treatment are relatively well understood but there is a large gap in our understanding of how these effects lead to improved mood and symptoms in depression. There is growing evidence that antidepressants affect key psychological processes important in depression early in treatment and before therapeutic effects are seen. In particular, antidepressant treatments have been observed to bias emotional processing towards positive vs negative valenced information in healthy volunteers and depressed patients. Parallel changes in neural circuitry supporting emotional bias including amygdala, extra striate cortex and medical prefrontal cortex have also been observed early following antidepressant drug treatment. The cognitive neuropsychological model suggests that early change in emotional processing allows patients to recover over time as they experience everyday stressors, interactions and events with this more positive processing bias. Consistent with this, these initial changes in neural and behavioural response to emotional information are predictive of later clinical changes in symptoms. These models may be useful as a way of assessing novel interventions for depression including NMDA antagonists and transcranial direct current stimulation.