Ethnicity and culture represent important factors in shaping psychopathology as well as pharmacotherapeutic responses in psychiatric patients. A large body of literature, accumulated over the past several decades, demonstrates that these factors not only determine the metabolism and disposition of medications (pharmacokinetics), but also their interactions with therapeutic targets (pharmacodynamics). This article focuses on the impact of such variations on the diagnosis and treatment of depression and anxiety disorders between East and West. Genes controlling the expression of drug metabolizing enzymes as well as the function of the brain are highly polymorphic, and the patterns and distribution of these polymorphisms are typically divergent across ethnic groups. To the extent that these genetic patterns determine drug response, ethnic variations in these genetic dispositions will lead to differential responses in clinical settings. In addition, the expression of these genes is significantly influenced by environmental factors including diet as well as exposure to other natural products. Superimposed on these biological influences, culturally determined beliefs and behavioral patterns also profoundly influence patients' expectations of treatment response, adherence, and interactions with clinicians. In addition to pharmacotherapeutic responses, emerging data also indicate that significant ethnic variations exist in genetic polymorphisms and neurobiologic correlates (biomarkers) that may be associated with the vulnerability to psychiatric disorders. These considerations argue for the importance of examining biological variations across ethnic groups, especially in the clinical context, in terms of the assessment and treatment of psychiatric patients, and in our understanding of psychiatric phenomenology and nosology.
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