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Letter to the Editor   |    
There Is Nothing New Under the Sun
DAN A. OREN, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 1999;156:336-336.

To the Editor: A 1986 letter to the Editor (R15602CHDDJIFI) aptly suggested that in 1898 the polar explorer Dr. Frederick A. Cook conducted a natural "experiment"demonstrating the beneficial effects of light therapy for winter seasonal depression (R15602CHDBDDDJ). The letter quotes Cook-apparently alluding to the cosmos-writing that the result of Antarctic winter darkness was to leave people "in a condition similar to that of a planet deprived of direct sunlight."

In view of a novel theoretical model suggesting that human chronobiological sensitivity to light may share behavioral and molecular properties with the plant kingdom (R15602CHDCDDHC, R15602CHDDBBJE), it becomes reasonable to consider the possibility that the preceding Cook quotation represents a century-old typographical error and that Cook had intended to write that winter darkness left people in a condition similar to a plant deprived of direct sunlight. In support of this proposition, Cook's own writing elsewhere records that the depression induced by long polar nights implies "that the presence of the sun is essential to animal as it is to vegetable life" (R15602CHDCFJGJ).

At the least, Cook's long-forgotten insight makes one wonder what other clinically and biochemically relevant treasures from past scholarship might productively inform the future.

Jefferson JW: An early "study"of seasonal depression (letter). Am J Psychiatry  1986; 143:261-262
 
Rosenthal NE, Sack DA, Gillin JC, Lewy AJ, Goodwin FK, Davenport Y, Mueller PS, Newsome DA, Wehr TA: Seasonal affective disorder: a description of the syndrome and preliminary findings with light therapy. Arch Gen Psychiatry  1984; 41:72-80
[PubMed]
 
Oren DA: Humoral phototransduction: blood is a messenger. Neuroscientist  1996; 2:207-210
[CrossRef]
 
Oren DA, Terman M: Tweaking the human circadian clock with light. Science  1998; 279:333-334
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Cook FA: Medical observations among the Esquimaux. New York J Gynecology and Obstetrics  1894; 4:282-286
 
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References

Jefferson JW: An early "study"of seasonal depression (letter). Am J Psychiatry  1986; 143:261-262
 
Rosenthal NE, Sack DA, Gillin JC, Lewy AJ, Goodwin FK, Davenport Y, Mueller PS, Newsome DA, Wehr TA: Seasonal affective disorder: a description of the syndrome and preliminary findings with light therapy. Arch Gen Psychiatry  1984; 41:72-80
[PubMed]
 
Oren DA: Humoral phototransduction: blood is a messenger. Neuroscientist  1996; 2:207-210
[CrossRef]
 
Oren DA, Terman M: Tweaking the human circadian clock with light. Science  1998; 279:333-334
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Cook FA: Medical observations among the Esquimaux. New York J Gynecology and Obstetrics  1894; 4:282-286
 
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