Glossary of some Common Terms Used in Psychopharmacology

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This glossary should be used in conjunction with the index.


Abuse liability Acetylator status

Action potential Addiction Adenylate cyclase


Affective disorder


Age-associated memory

Use of a legal or illicit substance or medication for non-medical or pleasurable purposes unconnected with medically approved indications. Capacity of a drug to produce physiological or psychological dependence and alter the behaviour in a manner detrimental to the individual. Refers to ability to acetylate organic compounds in the liver. A rapid acetylator refers to an individual whose N-acetyl transferase is hyperactive. Such individuals are more likely to require larger doses of drugs such as phenelzine. Conversely, slow acetylators have a genetically linked deficit in N-acetyl transferase and therefore require a lower dose of the drug.

Wave of electrical impulses that travel down an axon to initiate the release of a neurotransmitter. State in which the individual is dependent on a drug of abuse. Term now replaced by dependence. The intracellular enzyme associated with some types of receptor that on activation produces the secondary messenger cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cyclic AMP).

Mood or emotional state.

Mental illness where the predominant abnormality is a disturbance of affect. Such disorders include depression and mania.

The potency of a ligand to bind to a receptor or active site on an enzyme. This may be quantified by the affinity constant (km or bmax).

Disorder alleged to occur in those over 60 years of age in the absence of clinical evidence of dementia.


Agnosia Agonist


Agonist, partial




Akathisia Akinesia

Alcoholic dementia

Alcoholic hallucinosis Alcoholism

Alkaloid Alkyl group

Allele (allelomorph)

Defined in DSM-IV as the inability to sit still, pacing, fidgeting, continuous movement of the legs or fingers, wringing hands. These movements are not limited to isolated periods when an upsetting subject is being discussed.

Loss of the ability to recognize sensory stimuli. A compound that acts on a receptor to produce similar effects to the natural ligand. Drug that produces effects at a receptor that are qualitatively opposite to those produced by an agonist. Drug that acts as an agonist at a low concentration but which, at higher concentrations, blocks the receptor thereby acting as an antagonist. A phobia characterized by the need to avoid being trapped, usually in a public place. Impairment of the ability to communicate ideas in writing; usually related to a brain disorder. Usually an iatrogenic state in which the white blood cell count is less than 2000/ and the leucocyte count is less than 500/ Term used to describe a patient's restlessness and inability to sit still. Shortly after the introduction of neuroleptics, akathisia was recognized as one of the most common and distressing side effects. Propra-nolol is often useful in treating such symptoms. Movement disorder characterized by reduction or loss of ability to initiate voluntary muscle movements. Often associated with side effects of neuro-leptics: mask-like facial expression, absent arm swing, low voice.

An organic brain syndrome associated with prolonged, heavy ingestion of alcohol characterized by impairment of short- and long-term memory, abstract thinking and judgement.

Persistent auditory and/or visual hallucinations after recovery from delirium tremens.

(a) Primary chronic disease with genetic, psychological and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.

(b) Often progressive and fatal, characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, distortion in thinking - particularly denial. Complex nitrogen containing organic base of plant origin (e.g. morphine).

A radical derived from an open chain hydrocarbon. Often referred to as an aliphatic group (e.g. a methyl or ethyl group).

Alternative form of a gene found in the corresponding loci on homologous chromosomes, that determines alternative characteristics in inheritance.


Alpha electroencephalogram Amnesia

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)


Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA)

Analysis of variance

(ANOVA) Anhedonia

Anorectic Anorexia nervosa

Anorexiant Anorgasmia

Anosmia Antagonist


Antinociceptive Antisense oligonucleotide

Aphrodisiac Apoptosis

Marked poverty of speech or speech content. Alogia is one of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. EEG that shows 8-13 Hz waves (alpha waves) in all recording leads from a resting subject with closed eyes.

Loss of memory, inability to recall past experience. Anterograde amnesia refers to an inability to recall events after a drug (e.g. a benzodiazepine) or ECT. Retrograde amnesia refers to the loss of memory occurring prior to the incident that causes amnesia. In UK, known as motor neuron disease. A devastating adult onset paralytic disorder caused by degeneration of large motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord.

Stimulant such as caffeine or amphetamine that reverses drug-induced depression of the CNS. Statistical method to determine if two or more related dependent variables exposed to two or more related variables differ significantly from chance. Statistical test to compare the mean values from two or more groups.

Inability to derive pleasure from situations that usually induce pleasure. This is a characteristic feature of major depressive disorder. Drug that reduces appetite; used in weight reduction.

Heterogeneous, multifactorial eating disorder that occurs most commonly in pre-pubertal adolescents and young women.

Drug that reduces appetite or induces aversion to food.

Failure to achieve orgasm. Usually psychological or interpersonal but can be iatrogenic due to antide-pressants (particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), neuroleptics or benzodiazepines. Loss of sense of smell.

A compound that blocks a receptor thereby preventing an agonist from eliciting a physiological response. An antagonist should have no biological activity of its own.

Substance that can elicit antibody formation by immune-competent cells and react with a specific antibody.

Having the action of reducing or abolishing a painful stimulus (e.g. an analgesic).

Short piece of synthetic DNA with a nucleotide sequence that is the reverse of, and complementary to, part of the messenger RNA (mRNA) Substance that positively enhances sexual arousal. Programmed cell death characterized by cellular DNA fragmentation and specific cellular changes.

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