For six decades, the principal mode of action of antidepressant drugs is the inhibition of monoamine re-uptake from the synaptic cleft. Tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and the new generation of dual antidepressants all exert their antidepressant effects by this mechanism. In the early days of the monoaminergic era, other efforts have been made to ameliorate the symptoms of depression by pharmacological means. The gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system was and possibly still is one of the main alternative drug targets. Gammahydroxybutyrate (GHB) was developed as an orally active GABA analogue. It was tested in animal models of depression and human studies. The effects on sleep, agitation, anhedonia and depression were promising. However, the rise of benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants brought GHB out of the scope of possible treatment alternatives. GHB is a GABA(B) and GHB receptor agonist with a unique spectrum of behavioural, neuroendocrine and sleep effects, and improves daytime sleepiness in various disorders such as narcolepsy, Parkinson's disease and fibromyalgia. Although it was banned from the US market at the end of the 1990s because of its abuse and overdose potential, it later was approved for the treatment of narcolepsy. New research methods and an extended view on other neurotransmitter systems as possible treatment targets of antidepressant treatment brought GHB back to the scene. This article discusses the unique neurobiological effects of GHB, its misuse potential and possible role as a model substance for the development of novel pharmacological treatment strategies in depressive disorders.