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Depression: Impact, Causes, and Current Research

Peter Schmidt, M.D.
Chief, Unit on Reproductive Endocrine Studies
Behavioral Endocrinology Branch
Director, Outpatient Clinic
National Institute of Mental Health

Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Photo of Peter Schmidt

Dr. Peter Schmidt received his bachelor of medicine degree from the Royal College of Surgeons and the National University of Ireland. He performed his medical internship, completed his MD degree, and residency in psychiatry at the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He then joined the NIMH as an Ontario Mental Health Foundation Fellow.

After completing his NIMH research fellowship, Dr. Schmidt served as the director of the NIMH Psychiatry Consultation Service within the NIH Clinical Center between 1990 and 1995. Over the last ten years, Dr. Schmidt has pursued his research interests more actively; currently he is chief for NIMH’s Unit on Reproductive Endocrine Studies, Behavioral Endocrinology Branch and Director of the Institute’s Outpatient Clinic.

An expanding proportion of the population is entering midlife, and the availability of a variety of hormone (or hormone-like) therapies for both men and women supports the need for systematic evaluations of the potential psychotropic effects of these compounds. Dr. Schmidt’s laboratory is interested in the neurobehavioral effects of gonadal steroids in humans, including their roles in regulation of mood state in women with menstrual cycle-related mood disorders and depression around the time of menopause or following childbirth.

His specific research interests include alterations of the gonadal steroids and adrenal androgens that have been implicated in the observed gender differences in the prevalence, course and treatment-response characteristics of several psychiatric illnesses. Additionally, these steroids appear to influence response to stress (both short and long-term) as well as several cognitive processes (e.g., working memory) relevant to mood regulation.

His investigations have been primarily focused on the characterization of affective disorders occurring during the perimenopause, the identification of the role of gonadal steroids in these mood disorders, and the investigation of the neuroregulatory consequences of the presence and absence of gonadal steroids.

These studies will help provide insight into the mechanisms underlying affective disorders in general and, additionally, may help define the way in which gonadal steroids modify the course or expression of affective disorders. Finally, the information obtained by these protocols will help identify the predictive utility of endocrine measures in perimenopause-related depression and help define the role of hormonal therapies in mood disorders, in particular those disorders occurring at midlife in men and women.

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