Recognition and Diagnosis of Atypical Depression

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The term atypical depression dates to the first wave of reports describing differential response to monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). In contrast to more TCA-responsive depressions, patients with so-called atypical symptoms (e.g., hypersomnia, interpersonal sensitivity, leaden paralysis, increased appetite and/or weight, and phobic anxiety) were observed to be more responsive to MAOIs. After several decades of controversy and debate, the phrase "with atypical features" was added as an episode specifier in the DSM-IV in 1994. The 1-year prevalence of the defined atypical depression subtype is approximately 1% to 4%; around 15% to 29% of patients with major depressive disorder have atypical depression. Hardly "atypical" in contemporary contexts, atypical depression also is common in dysthymic bipolar II disorders and is notable for its early age at onset, more chronic course, and high rates of comorbidity with social phobia and panic disorder with agoraphobia. The requirement of preserved mood reactivity is arguably the most controversial of the DSM-IV criteria for atypical depression. When compared with melancholia, the neurobiological profiles of patients with atypical depression are relatively normal. The utility of the atypical depression subtype for differential therapeutics diminished substantially when the TCAs were supplanted as first-line antidepressants by the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Although introduction of safer MAOIs has fostered renewed interest in atypical depression, the validity and importance of the DSM-IV definition of atypical depression for the nosology of affective illness remains an open question.

J Clin Psychiatry 2007;68(suppl 8):11-16