Development and Psychopathology


Recurrent affective disorder: Roots in developmental neurobiology and illness progression based on changes in gene expression

Robert M. Posta1 c1, Susan R. B. Weissa1 and Gabriele S. Levericha1

a1 Biological Psychiatry Branch, National Institute of Mental Health


Electrophysiological kindling and behavioral sensitization to psychomotor stimulants and stress provide paradigms for understanding how repeated acute events can leave neurobiological residues in gene expression, accounting for the observed long-lasting alterations in behavioral responsivity. Kindling helps conceptualize how repeated electrical stimulation of the brain can progressively evoke increased behavioral and convulsive responsivity, leading to spontaneous seizures in the absence of exogenous stimulation following sufficient stimulations. As kindling unfolds, a complex spatiotemporal cascade of events occurs and includes the induction of immediate early genes (e.g., c-fos) and late effector genes (including peptides and growth factors) possibly associated with the observed changes in brain microstructure (e.g., synapse formation, axonal and dendritic sprouting, apoptosis). Behavioral sensitization to psychomotor stimulants and stress has also been shown to induce related but different cascades of effects on immediate early and late effector gene expression. These may be associated with the observed long-lasting alterations in behavioral responsivity based on prior experience. If these types of alterations are put into a developmental context, this would provide a paradigm for understanding how early life events could exert profound and behaviorally relevant biochemical and microstructural effects on the central nervous system of the developing organism. The conceptual overview offered by the sensitization and kindling models suggests that environmentally triggered neurobiological processes do not form a single or static residue but, instead, engage processes related to developmental neurobiology and learning and memory and whose substrate is constantly evolving over an organism's lifetime.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Robert M. Post, M.D., Chief, Biological Psychiatry Branch, NIMH, Building 10, Room 3N212, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892.