Accepted Paper:

From adaptation to neural regeneration: Neuroscientific views of depression beyond the serotonin hypothesis   


Ilpo Helén (University of Eastern Finland)

Paper short abstract:

I discuss two models of neurobiology of depression from a Canguilhemian perspective: first, a stress response model of depression by Peter Whybrow, focused on adaptation of the brain; second, Eero Castrén's interpretation of antidepressant effects, emphasizing neural regeneration and plasticity.

Paper long abstract:

The idea of depression as a brain disorder with specific biological features has become predominant in professional and lay understandings in the West during the past a quarter of a century. In my paper, I approach two concepts of neurobiology of depression from a Canguilhemian perspective. First one is a 'stress response' model of depression (which seems to return in fashion in neuropsychiatry and in wider discourse of mental health care). I focus on Peter Whybrow's 'psychobiological' synthesis of depressive and other mood disorders which dates back 20 years. In particular, the notion of adaptation of the brain is particularly relevant. To illustrate a change in neuroscientific reasoning, I look into a present discussion in which depression is related to diminished neural regeneration. This concept is exemplified Eero Castrén, a prominent Finnish neuroscientist, and his animal experiments on antidepressant effects in the brain. A core feature in Castren's discussion is an emphasis of neural regeneration and plasticity.

I analyse these concepts of depression with the help of Georges Canguilhem's concepts of adaptation, and vital and social norms. In particular, Castren's discussion implies that psychopharmaceuticals entangle social and biological elements, processes and norms. Consequently, I consider antidepressant medication both as 'biotechnology' enabling modification of neurobiological processes in order to manage or repair impaired 'stress response' or 'adaptive failure' and as social technology allowing individuals to adjust social norms and expectations. Therefore, I suggest that Canguilhemian dimensions of 'the social' and 'the vital' should be amended by 'the technological'.

Panel T096
Emerging biotechnologies in psychiatry and clinical psychology