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A Case of Seasonal Aff ective Disorder
David F. Dean
Department of Biology
Spring Hill College

Case Presentation

Melanie Johnson is a -year-old accountant who moved to Green Bay,
Wisconsin, two years ago from her hometown of Sarasota, Florida. Beginning
this past November, for the first time in her life, Melanie began experiencing
periods of depression, lethargy, and excessive sleeping. In addition, she noticed
that she was eating more than she had previously, and as a result, had gained 

Melanie made an appointment with her physician, who after ruling out all
potential medical causes of the symptoms she displayed, and after she was
examined by a psychiatrist to rule out other causes of her depression, diagnosed
her as having seasonal affective disorder (sad).

1. Describe the exact anatomic location and histologic structure of the pineal

gland, and describe the effect of light on the production of melatonin.
2. Describe the pathway connecting the photoreceptors of the eyes to the

pineal gland.
3. How is the pineal gland functionally related to the adrenal medulla?
4. Define the term circadian rhythm, and cite examples of physiological events

that occur as a result of such patterns.
5. Describe the condition known as seasonal affective disorder, and discuss the

treatment of this condition.
6. Describe the use of melatonin in the treatment of “jet lag” and insomnia

associated with aging.
7. Are any serious side effects known to occur as the result of the

administration of melatonin?
8. List some environmental stresses that can affect pineal function.
9. Does the structure of the pineal gland change as we age?

10. How did the pineal gland get its name?

Image Credit: Detail of Melancholy by Edgar Degas,  c., oil on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington.
Copyright ©  by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.
Originally published // at
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“A Case of Seasonal Affective Disorder” by David F. Dean

A Case of Seasonal Affective Disorder

In this module, you will complete a 
directed case. This type of case study is designed to enhance your understanding of fundamental concepts, principles, and facts. The case consists of a short, dramatic scenario accompanied by a set of “directed” questions. Some of the answers to the questions can be found in the textbook or the lectures, while other questions may require you to do additional research. 


1. Describe how light affects melatonin production.

2. Explain the etiology and treatment of seasonal affective disorder. 

3. Distinguish between the use and potential misuse of melatonin in the treatment of disease states.


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