Tolerance to the Prophylactic Effects of Carbamazepine and Related Mood Stabilizers in the Treatment of Bipolar Disorders


Tolerance development after successful long-term treatment of bipolar disorder is under recognized, as are ways to prevent or show its occurrence or reverse it once it has occurred. We review the clinical literature which suggests that tolerance can develop to most treatment approaches in bipolar illness and present an animal model of tolerance development to anticonvulsant effects of carbamazepine or lamotrigine on amgydala-kindled seizures. In this model tolerance does not have a pharmacokinetic basis, but is contingent upon the drug being present in the brain at the time of amygdala stimulation. The occurrence of seizures in the absence of drug is sufficient to reverse tolerance and re-establish anticonvulsant efficacy. Based on the model, we hypothesize that some episode-induced compensatory adaptive changes in gene expression fail to occur in tolerant subjects and that episodes off medication re-induce these changes and renew drug effectiveness. Approaches that slow or reverse tolerance development in the animal model are reviewed so that they can be tested for their applicability in the clinic. Criteria for assessing tolerance development are offered in the hope that this will facilitate a more systemic literature about its prevalence, prevention, and reversal. Careful longitudinal monitoring of episode occurrence is essential to understanding tolerance development in the affective disorder and its treatment

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