Neurobiological correlates of illness progression in the recurrent affective disorders
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Some clinical aspects of affective illness progression, such as episode-, stress-, and substance-induced sensitization, have been well documented in the literature, but others have received less attention. These include cognitive deficits, treatment-refractoriness, and neurobiological correlates of illness progression, which are the primary focus of this paper. We review the evidence that cognitive dysfunction, treatment resistance, medical comorbidities, and neurobiological abnormalities increase as a function of the number of prior episodes or duration of illness in the recurrent unipolar and bipolar disorders. Substantial evidence supports the view that cognitive dysfunction and vulnerability to a diagnosis of dementia in old age increases as a function of number of prior mood episodes as does non-response to many therapeutic interventions as well as naturalistic treatment. Neurobiological abnormalities that correlate with the number of mood episodes or duration of illness include: anatomical, functional, and biochemical deficits in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, as well as amygdala hyperactivity and cortisol hyper-secretion. Some neurotrophic factors and inflammatory markers may also change with greater illness burden. Causality cannot be inferred from these correlative relationships. Nonetheless, given the potentially grave consequences of episode recurrence and progression for morbidity and treatment non-responsiveness, it is clinically wise to assume episodes are causing some of the progressive cognitive and neurobiological abnormalities. As such, earlier and more sustained long-term prophylaxis to attempt to reduce these adverse outcomes is indicated.
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