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Rapid Onset of Antidepressant Action: A New Paradigm in the Research and Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder

J Clin Psychiatry 2008;69(6):946-958

Objective: Current therapeutics of depression are similar in their time to antidepressant action and often take weeks to months to achieve response and remission, which commonly results in considerable morbidity and disruption in personal, professional, family, and social life, as well as risk for suicidal behavior. Thus, treatment strategies presenting a rapid improvement of depressive symptoms-within hours or even a few days-and whose effects are sustained would have an enormous impact on public health. This article reviews the published data related to different aspects of rapid improvement of depressive symptoms.

Data Sources: Literature for this review was obtained through a search of the MEDLINE database (1966-2007) using the following keywords and phrases: rapid response, antidepressant, time to, glutamate, sleep, therapeutics, latency, and depression. The data obtained were organized according to the following topics: clinical relevance and time course of antidepressant action, interventions showing evidence of rapid response and its potential neurobiological basis, and new technologies for better understanding rapid antidepressant actions.

Data Synthesis: A limited number of prospective studies evaluating rapid antidepressant actions have been conducted. Currently, only a few interventions have been shown to produce antidepressant response in hours or a few days. The neurobiological basis of these rapid antidepressant actions is only now being deciphered.

Conclusions: Certain experimental treatments can produce antidepressant response in a much shorter period of time than existing medications. Understanding the molecular basis of these experimental interventions is likely to lead to the development of improved therapeutics rather than simply furthering our knowledge of current standard antidepressants.