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Reactions: 30 researchers challenge study questioning the hypothesis that low serotonin levels cause depression, published last year

A commentary published last Friday in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, signed by more than 30 researchers, challenges the conclusions of the systematic review published in the same journal in July 2022, in which the authors concluded that there was no evidence that low serotonin levels cause depression. The researchers in the new paper blame the earlier study for flaws in methodology, among other weaknesses.

19/06/2023 - 15:35 CEST
Expert reactions

Eduard Vieta - serotonina depresión EN

Eduard Vieta

Researcher of the Centre for Biomedical Research in Mental Health Network (CIBERSAM). Head of the Psychiatry and Psychology Department at the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona and lecturer at the University of Barcelona

Science Media Centre Spain

This press release reflects the conclusions of a panel of experts on a paper published some time ago in the same journal which questioned the efficacy of antidepressants through the alleged lack of evidence for the involvement of serotonin in depression.  

The panel's arguments are strong and reflect the prevailing view in the scientific community that the criticised work lacked scientific rigour and was biased by non-scientific aspects.  

The authors of the commentary have identified the main methodological flaws in the original study and the biases in the interpretation of the results.  

In my opinion, the journal Molecular Psychiatry, following the arguments of this commentary, should withdraw the original study, which did not have the necessary scientific quality to be published as a research paper.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest

Alberto Ortiz - serotonina depresión

Alberto Ortiz Lobo

Doctor of Medicine and Psychiatrist at the Carlos III Day Hospital - La Paz University Hospital (Madrid)

Science Media Centre Spain

The article and its summary in the press release of the 36 researchers aim to criticise the original study on the basis of alleged methodological flaws. These have already been answered in detail by the authors of the original study themselves in the same journal on 16 June 2023.   

The uproar caused by the article by Moncrieff et al. and the attempt to devalue it in certain academic circles, such as this press release, is understandable because it questions the current biological foundations in the understanding of depression and its treatment. 

Moncrieff's study shows that the serotonergic hypothesis of depression (although so far also unproven) is false. This would mean that, as far as we currently know, depression is not caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters. However, it is this unproven serotonergic hypothesis that has justified the massive prescription of antidepressants over the last three decades. 

The text published in Molecular Psychiatry, a journal of the highest methodological standards and unquestionable quality, implies that we need to critically review our clinical practice, how we understand what happens to people with depression and how we can best help them, but this is always uncomfortable, especially if there are intellectual or other conflicts of interest.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
A leaky umbrella has little value: evidence clearly indicates the serotonin system is implicated in depression
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