What is a Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor?

Introduction

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are a class of drugs that inhibit the activity of one or both monoamine oxidase enzymes: monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) and monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B).

They are best known as highly efficacious antidepressants, as well as effective therapeutic agents for panic disorder and social phobia. They are particularly effective in treatment-resistant depression and atypical depression. They are also used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and several other disorders.

Reversible inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A (RIMAs) are a subclass of MAOIs that selectively and reversibly inhibit the MAO-A enzyme. RIMAs are used clinically in the treatment of depression and dysthymia. Due to their reversibility, they are safer in single-drug overdose than the older, irreversible MAOIs, and weaker in increasing the monoamines important in depressive disorder. RIMAs have not gained widespread market share in the United States.

New research into MAOIs indicates that much of the concern over their supposed dangerous dietary side effects stems from misconceptions and misinformation, and that they are still underutilised despite demonstrated efficacy. New research also questions the validity of the perceived severity of dietary reactions, which has been based on outdated research. Despite this, many psychiatrists, who have little or no knowledge of and experience with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (and are thus unaware of their significant benefits), still reserve them as a last line of treatment, used only when other classes of antidepressant drugs (for example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants) have failed.

Brief History

MAOIs started off due to the serendipitous discovery that iproniazid was a potent MAO inhibitor (MAOI). Originally intended for the treatment of tuberculosis, in 1952, iproniazid’s antidepressant properties were discovered when researchers noted that the depressed patients given iproniazid experienced a relief of their depression. Subsequent in vitro work led to the discovery that it inhibited MAO and eventually to the monoamine theory of depression. MAOIs became widely used as antidepressants in the early 1950s. The discovery of the 2 isoenzymes of MAO has led to the development of selective MAOIs that may have a more favourable side-effect profile.

The older MAOIs’ heyday was mostly between the years 1957 and 1970. The initial popularity of the ‘classic’ non-selective irreversible MAO inhibitors began to wane due to their serious interactions with sympathomimetic drugs and tyramine-containing foods that could lead to dangerous hypertensive emergencies. As a result, the use by medical practitioners of these older MAOIs declined. When scientists discovered that there are two different MAO enzymes (MAO-A and MAO-B), they developed selective compounds for MAO-B, (for example, selegiline, which is used for Parkinson’s disease), to reduce the side-effects and serious interactions. Further improvement occurred with the development of compounds (moclobemide and toloxatone) that not only are selective but cause reversible MAO-A inhibition and a reduction in dietary and drug interactions. Moclobemide, was the first reversible inhibitor of MAO-A to enter widespread clinical practice.

A transdermal patch form of the MAOI selegiline, called Emsam, was approved for use in depression by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on 28 February 2006.

Medical Uses

MAOIs have been found to be effective in the treatment of panic disorder with agoraphobia, social phobia, atypical depression or mixed anxiety disorder and depression, bulimia, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as borderline personality disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). MAOIs appear to be particularly effective in the management of bipolar depression according to a retrospective-analysis from 2009. There are reports of MAOI efficacy in OCD, trichotillomania, body dysmorphic disorder, and avoidant personality disorder, but these reports are from uncontrolled case reports.

MAOIs can also be used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease by targeting MAO-B in particular (therefore affecting dopaminergic neurons), as well as providing an alternative for migraine prophylaxis. Inhibition of both MAO-A and MAO-B is used in the treatment of clinical depression and anxiety.

MAOIs appear to be particularly indicated for outpatients with dysthymia complicated by panic disorder or hysteroid dysphoria.

Newer MAOIs such as selegiline (typically used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease) and the reversible MAOI moclobemide provide a safer alternative and are now sometimes used as first-line therapy.

Side Effects

Hypertensive Crisis

People taking MAOIs generally need to change their diets to limit or avoid foods and beverages containing tyramine, which is found in products such as cheese, soy sauce, and salami. If large amounts of tyramine are consumed, they may suffer a hypertensive crisis, which can be fatal. Examples of foods and beverages with potentially high levels of tyramine include animal liver and fermented substances, such as alcoholic beverages and aged cheeses. Excessive concentrations of tyramine in blood plasma can lead to hypertensive crisis by increasing the release of norepinephrine (NE), which causes blood vessels to constrict by activating alpha-1 adrenergic receptors. Ordinarily, MAO-A would destroy the excess NE; when MAO-A is inhibited, however, NE levels get too high, leading to dangerous increases in blood pressure.

RIMAs are displaced from MAO-A in the presence of tyramine, rather than inhibiting its breakdown in the liver as general MAOIs do. Additionally, MAO-B remains free and continues to metabolise tyramine in the stomach, although this is less significant than the liver action. Thus, RIMAs are unlikely to elicit tyramine-mediated hypertensive crisis; moreover, dietary modifications are not usually necessary when taking a reversible inhibitor of MAO-A (i.e. moclobemide) or low doses of selective MAO-B inhibitors (e.g. selegiline 6 mg/24 hours transdermal patch).

Drug Interactions

The most significant risk associated with the use of MAOIs is the potential for drug interactions with over-the-counter, prescription, or illegally obtained medications, and some dietary supplements (e.g. St. John’s wort, tryptophan). It is vital that a doctor supervise such combinations to avoid adverse reactions. For this reason, many users carry an MAOI-card, which lets emergency medical personnel know what drugs to avoid (e.g. adrenaline (epinephrine) dosage should be reduced by 75%, and duration is extended).

Tryptophan supplements should not be consumed with MAOIs as the potentially fatal serotonin syndrome may result.

MAOIs should not be combined with other psychoactive substances (antidepressants, painkillers, stimulants, including prescribed, OTC and illegally acquired drugs, etc.) except under expert care. Certain combinations can cause lethal reactions, common examples including SSRIs, tricyclics, MDMA, meperidine, tramadol, and dextromethorphan. Drugs that affect the release or reuptake of epinephrine, norepinephrine, or dopamine typically need to be administered at lower doses due to the resulting potentiated and prolonged effect. MAOIs also interact with tobacco-containing products (e.g. cigarettes) and may potentiate the effects of certain compounds in tobacco. This may be reflected in the difficulty of smoking cessation, as tobacco contains naturally occurring MAOI compounds in addition to the nicotine.

While safer than general MAOIs, RIMAs still possess significant and potentially serious drug interactions with many common drugs; in particular, they can cause serotonin syndrome or hypertensive crisis when combined with almost any antidepressant or stimulant, common migraine medications, certain herbs, or most cold medicines (including decongestants, antihistamines, and cough syrup).

Ocular alpha-2 agonists such as brimonidine and apraclonidine are glaucoma medications which reduce intraocular pressure by decreasing aqueous production. These alpha-2 agonists should not be given with oral MAOIs due to the risk of hypertensive crisis.

Withdrawal

Antidepressants including MAOIs have some dependence-producing effects, the most notable one being a discontinuation syndrome, which may be severe especially if MAOIs are discontinued abruptly or too rapidly. The dependence-producing potential of MAOIs or antidepressants in general is not as significant as benzodiazepines, however. Discontinuation symptoms can be managed by a gradual reduction in dosage over a period of weeks, months or years to minimise or prevent withdrawal symptoms.

MAOIs, as with most antidepressant medication, may not alter the course of the disorder in a significant, permanent way, so it is possible that discontinuation can return the patient to the pre-treatment state. This consideration complicates prescribing between a MAOI and a SSRI, because it is necessary to clear the system completely of one drug before starting another. One physician organisation recommends the dose to be tapered down over a minimum of four weeks, followed by a two week washout period. The result is that a depressed patient will have to bear the depression without chemical help during the drug-free interval. This may be preferable to risking the effects of an interaction between the two drugs.

Interactions

The MAOIs are infamous for their numerous drug interactions, including the following kinds of substances:

  • Substances that are metabolised by monoamine oxidase, as they can be boosted by up to several-fold.
  • Substances that increase serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine activity, as too much of any of these neurochemicals can result in severe acute consequences, including serotonin syndrome, hypertensive crisis, and psychosis, respectively.

Such substances that can react with MAOIs include:

  • Phenethylamines: 2C-B, mescaline, phenethylamine (PEA), etc.
    • Amphetamines: amphetamine, MDMA, dextroamphetamine, methamphetamine, DOM, etc.
  • Tryptamines: DMT (MAOIs prevent oxidisation of DMT in the digestive tract, which renders it biologically inert. This allows it to be absorbed in the stomach and small intestine, allowing one to experience the effects of DMT by taking it orally i.e. by Ayahuasca. This anti-oxidation effect can also be observed when administering DMT by inhalation, and it can serve to potentiate the length of the experience.)
  • Norepinephrine, and/or dopamine reuptake inhibitors:
    • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): desvenlafaxine, duloxetine, milnacipran, venlafaxine.
    • Norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs): amineptine, bupropion, methylphenidate, nomifensine.
    • Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (NRIs): atomoxetine, mazindol, reboxetine.
    • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): amitriptyline, butriptyline, clomipramine, desipramine, dosulepin, doxepin, imipramine, lofepramine, nortriptyline, protriptyline, trimipramine.
    • Tetracyclic antidepressants (TeCAs): amoxapine, maprotiline.
    • Phenylpiperidine derivative opioids: meperidine/pethidine, tramadol, methadone, fentanyl, dextropropoxyphene, propoxyphene.
    • Others: brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, cocaine, cyclobenzaprine, dextromethorphan (DXM), ketamine, MDPV, nefazodone, phencyclidine (PCP), pheniramine, sibutramine, trazodone
  • Serotonin, norepinephrine, and/or dopamine releasers: 4-methylaminorex (4-MAR), amphetamine, benzphetamine, cathine, cathinone, diethylcathinone, ephedrine, levmetamfetamine, lisdexamfetamine, MDMA (“Ecstasy”), methamphetamine, pemoline, phendimetrazine, phenethylamine (PEA), phentermine, propylhexedrine, pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, tyramine.
  • Local and general anaesthetic in surgery and dentistry, in particular those containing epinephrine. There is no universally taught or accepted practice regarding dentistry and use of MAOIs such as phenelzine, and therefore it is vital to inform all clinicians, especially dentists, of the potential effect of MAOIs and local anaesthesia. In preparation for dental work, withdrawal from phenelzine is specifically advised; since this takes two weeks, however, it is not always a desirable or practical option. Dentists using local anaesthesia are advised to use a non-epinephrine anaesthetic such as mepivacaine at a level of 3%. Specific attention should be paid to blood pressure during the procedure, and the level of the anaesthetic should be regularly and appropriately topped-up, for non-epinephrine anaesthetics take longer to come into effect and wear off faster. Patients taking phenelzine are advised to notify their psychiatrist prior to any dental treatment.
  • Certain other supplements may exhibit below-therapeutic-level MAOI activity: Hypericum perforatum (“St John’s wort”), inositol, Rhodiola rosea, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe).
  • Antibiotics such as linezolid.
  • Other monoamine oxidase inhibitors.

Mechanism of Action

MAOIs act by inhibiting the activity of monoamine oxidase, thus preventing the breakdown of monoamine neurotransmitters and thereby increasing their availability. There are two isoforms of monoamine oxidase, MAO-A and MAO-B. MAO-A preferentially deaminates serotonin, melatonin, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. MAO-B preferentially deaminates phenethylamine and certain other trace amines; in contrast, MAO-A preferentially deaminates other trace amines, like tyramine, whereas dopamine is equally deaminated by both types.

Reversibility

The early MAOIs covalently bound to the monoamine oxidase enzymes, thus inhibiting them irreversibly; the bound enzyme could not function and thus enzyme activity was blocked until the cell made new enzymes. The enzymes turn over approximately every two weeks. A few newer MAOIs, a notable one being moclobemide, are reversible, meaning that they are able to detach from the enzyme to facilitate usual catabolism of the substrate. The level of inhibition in this way is governed by the concentrations of the substrate and the MAOI.

Harmaline found in Peganum harmala, Banisteriopsis caapi, and Passiflora incarnata is a reversible inhibitor of monoamine oxidase A (RIMA).

Selectivity

In addition to reversibility, MAOIs differ by their selectivity of the MAO enzyme subtype. Some MAOIs inhibit both MAO-A and MAO-B equally, other MAOIs have been developed to target one over the other.

MAO-A inhibition reduces the breakdown of primarily serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine; selective inhibition of MAO-A allows for tyramine to be metabolised via MAO-B. Agents that act on serotonin if taken with another serotonin-enhancing agent may result in a potentially fatal interaction called serotonin syndrome or with irreversible and unselective inhibitors (such as older MAOIs), of MAO a hypertensive crisis as a result of tyramine food interactions is particularly problematic with older MAOIs. Tyramine is broken down by MAO-A and MAO-B, therefore inhibiting this action may result in its excessive build-up, so diet must be monitored for tyramine intake.

MAO-B inhibition reduces the breakdown mainly of dopamine and phenethylamine so there are no dietary restrictions associated with this. MAO-B would also metabolize tyramine, as the only differences between dopamine, phenethylamine, and tyramine are two phenylhydroxyl groups on carbons 3 and 4. The 4-OH would not be a steric hindrance to MAO-B on tyramine. Selegiline is selective for MAO-B at low doses, but non-selective at higher doses.

List of MAO Inhibiting Drugs

Marketed MAOIs

  • Nonselective MAO-A/MAO-B inhibitors.
    • Hydrazine (antidepressant).
      • Isocarboxazid (Marplan).
      • Hydracarbazine.
      • Phenelzine (Nardil).
    • Non-hydrazines.
      • Tranylcypromine (Parnate, Jatrosom).
  • Selective MAO-A inhibitors.
    • Bifemelane (Alnert, Celeport) (available in Japan).
    • Moclobemide (Aurorix, Manerix).
    • Pirlindole (Pirazidol) (available in Russia).
  • Selective MAO-B inhibitors.
    • Rasagiline (Azilect).
    • Selegiline (Deprenyl, Eldepryl, Emsam, Zelapar).
    • Safinamide (Xadago).

Linezolid is an antibiotic drug with weak, reversible MAO-inhibiting activity.

Methylene blue, the antidote indicated for drug-induced methemoglobinemia, among a plethora of other off-label uses, is a highly potent, reversible MAO inhibitor.

MAOIs that have been Withdrawn from the Market

  • Nonselective MAO-A/MAO-B inhibitors:
    • Hydrazines.
      • Benmoxin (Nerusil, Neuralex).
      • Iproclozide (Sursum).
      • Iproniazid (Marsilid, Iprozid, Ipronid, Rivivol, Propilniazida) (discontinued worldwide except for France).
      • Mebanazine (Actomol).
      • Nialamide (Niamid).
      • Octamoxin (Ximaol, Nimaol).
      • Pheniprazine (Catron).
      • Phenoxypropazine (Drazine).
      • Pivalylbenzhydrazine (Tersavid).
      • Safrazine (Safra) (discontinued worldwide except for Japan).
    • Non-hydrazines.
      • Caroxazone (Surodil, Timostenil).
  • Selective MAO-A inhibitors:
    • Minaprine (Cantor).
    • Toloxatone (Humoryl).

List of RIMAs

  • Marketed pharmaceuticals:
    • Moclobemide (Aurorix, Manerix).
  • Other pharmaceuticals.
    • Brofaromine (Consonar).
    • Caroxazone (Surodil, Timostenil).
    • Eprobemide (Befol).
    • Methylene blue.
    • Metralindole (Inkazan).
    • Minaprine (Cantor).
    • Pirlindole (Pirazidol).
  • Naturally occurring RIMAs in plants:
    • Curcumin (selectivity for MAO-A and reliability of research on curcumin are disputed).
    • Harmaline.
    • Harmine.
  • Research compounds:
    • Amiflamine (FLA-336).
    • Befloxatone (MD-370,503).
    • Cimoxatone (MD-780,515).
    • Esuprone.
    • Sercloremine (CGP-4718-A).
    • Tetrindole.
    • CX157 (TriRima).

What is Trimipramine?

Introduction

Trimipramine, sold under the brand name Surmontil among others, is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) which is used to treat depression.

It has also been used for its sedative, anxiolytic, and weak antipsychotic effects in the treatment of insomnia, anxiety disorders, and psychosis, respectively. The drug is described as an atypical or “second-generation” TCA because, unlike other TCAs, it seems to be a fairly weak monoamine reuptake inhibitor. Similarly to other TCAs however, trimipramine does have antihistamine, antiserotonergic, antiadrenergic, antidopaminergic, and anticholinergic activities.

Brief History

Trimipramine was developed by Rhône-Poulenc. It was patented in 1959 and first appeared in the literature in 1961. The drug was first introduced for medical use in 1966, in Europe. It was not introduced in the United States until later in 1979 or 1980.

Medical Uses

Trimipramine’s primary use in medicine is in the treatment of major depressive disorder, especially where sedation is helpful due to its prominent sedative effects. The drug is also an effective anxiolytic, and can be used in the treatment of anxiety. In addition to depression and anxiety, trimipramine is effective in the treatment of insomnia, and unlike most other hypnotics, does not alter the normal sleep architecture. In particular, it does not suppress REM sleep, and dreams are said to “brighten” during treatment. Trimipramine also has some weak antipsychotic effects with a profile of activity described as similar to that of clozapine, and may be useful in the treatment of psychotic symptoms such as in delusional depression or schizophrenia.

Contraindications

Contraindications include:

  • Recent myocardial infarction.
  • Any degree of heart block or other cardiac arrhythmias.
  • Mania.
  • Severe liver disease.
  • During breastfeeding.
  • Hypersensitivity to trimipramine or to any of the excipients.

Side Effects

The side effects of trimipramine have been said to be similar to those of other tertiary amine TCAs, with a preponderance of anticholinergic and sedative effects. However, trimipramine has also been said to be associated with a different side effect profile compared to other TCAs and in general with fewer side effects, chiefly due to its lack of norepinephrine reuptake inhibition and relatively lower anticholinergic effects (although it is still a potent anticholinergic). Somnolence is the most common side effect of the drug. Dry mouth is the most common anticholinergic side effect, but others like constipation, urinary retention, and blurred vision are also present.

It is described as being associated with minimal or no orthostatic hypotension, at least in comparison to clomipramine, in spite of its potent and comparable activity as an alpha-1 blocker. However, it has also been said to have a rate of orthostatic hypotension similar to that of other TCAs. Trimipramine is said to be less epileptogenic than other TCAs, although seizures have still been reported in association with it. It is also less cardiotoxic than other TCAs and cardiotoxicity is said to be minimal, with a “very favourable profile”.

List of Side Effects

Common adverse effects include:

  • Sedation:
    • Especially common with trimipramine compared to the other TCAs.
  • Anticholinergic effects including:
    • Dry mouth.
    • Blurred vision.
    • Mydriasis.
    • Decreased lacrimation.
    • Constipation.
    • Urinary hesitancy or retention.
    • Reduced GI motility.
    • Tachycardia (high heart rate).
    • Anticholinergic delirium (particularly in the elderly and in Parkinson’s disease).
  • Weight gain.
  • Orthostatic hypotension.
  • Sexual dysfunction including impotence, loss of libido and other sexual adverse effects.
  • Tremor.
  • Dizziness.
  • Sweating.
  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia.
  • Agitation.
  • Rash.

Adverse effects with an unknown incidence includes:

  • Confusion.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Extrapyramidal side effects (e.g. parkinsonism, dystonia, etc.).
  • Tinnitus.
  • Paraesthesia.
  • ECG changes.
  • Increased liver function tests.

Rare adverse effects include:

  • Seizures.
  • Syndrome of inappropriate secretion of antidiuretic hormone.
  • Blood dyscrasias including:
    • Agranulocytosis.
    • Thrombocytopenia.
    • Eosinophilia.
    • Leukopenia.
  • Myocardial infarction.
  • Heart block.
  • QTc interval prolongation.
  • Sudden cardiac death.
  • Depression worsening.
  • Suicidal ideation.

Overdose

Refer to Tricyclic Antidepressant Overdose.

Compared to other TCAs, trimipramine is relatively safe in overdose, although it is more dangerous than the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) but less dangerous than bupropion in cases of overdose.

Interactions

Trimipramine should not be given with sympathomimetic agents such as epinephrine (adrenaline), ephedrine, isoprenaline, norepinephrine (noradrenaline), phenylephrine and phenylpropanolamine.

Barbiturates may increase the rate of metabolism. Trimipramine should be administered with care in patients receiving therapy for hyperthyrodism.

Genotoxicity

Heavy exposure to any tricyclic antidepressants was associated with an elevated rate ratio for breast cancer 11–15 years later. However, on tests done on Drosophila melanogaster, nongenotoxic TCAs (amitriptyline, maprotiline, nortriptyline, and protriptyline), and genotoxic TCAs (amoxapine, clomipramine, desipramine, doxepin, imipramine, and trimipramine) were identified.

Pharmacology

Pharmacodynamics

The mechanism of action of trimipramine in terms of its antidepressant effects differs from that of other TCAs and is not fully clear. The mechanism of action of its anxiolytic effects is similarly unclear. Trimipramine is a very weak reuptake inhibitor of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine (see below), and unlike most other TCAs, has been claimed to be devoid of clinically significant monoamine reuptake inhibition. The effects of the drug are thought to be mainly due to receptor antagonism as follows:

  • Very strong: H1.
  • Strong: 5-HT2A, α1-adrenergic.
  • Moderate: D2, mACh.
  • Weak: 5-HT2C, D1, α2-adrenergic.

In spite of its atypical nature and different profile of activity, trimipramine has been shown in head-to-head clinical studies to possess equivalent effectiveness to other antidepressants, including but not limited to other TCAs (e.g. amitriptyline, imipramine, doxepin, amineptine), tetracyclic antidepressants (TeCAs) (e.g. maprotiline), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) (e.g. phenelzine, isocarboxazid), and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (e.g. fluoxetine). In addition, trimipramine has been found to possess greater anxiolytic effects than other TCAs such as amitriptyline and doxepin in head-to-head comparisons. Indeed, its prominent anxiolytic effects have been said to distinguish it from most other TCAs. The atypicality of trimipramine in relation to its lack of monoamine reuptake inhibition is described as challenging the monoamine hypothesis of depression.

The major metabolite of trimipramine, desmethyltrimipramine, is considered to possess pharmacological activity similar to that of other demethylated tertiary amine TCA variants.

Monoamine Reuptake Inhibition

Studies have generally found only very weak inhibition of serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake with trimipramine, and the drug has been described by various authors as devoid of monoamine reuptake inhibition. Richelson & Pfenning (1984) found a relatively high Ki for the NET of 510 nM in rat brain synaptosomes and Tatsumi et al. (1997) found a relatively high KD of 149 nM for the SERT in human HEK293 cells, but other authors and a more recent study with an improved design have not had the same findings. In the most recent study, by Haenisch et al. (2011), the researchers suggested that the discrepant findings from the Tatsumi et al. study were due to methodological differences, in particular the use of radioligand binding in isolated membranes (KD) to study interactions as opposed to actual functional reuptake inhibition (IC50).

Trimipramine is extensively metabolized, so its metabolites may contribute to its pharmacology, including potentially to monoamine reuptake inhibition. In what was the only study to date to have assessed the activity profiles of the metabolites of trimipramine, Haenisch et al. (2011) assayed desmethyltrimipramine, 2-hydroxytrimipramine, and trimipramine-N-oxide in addition to trimipramine and found that these metabolites showed IC50 values for the SERT, NET, and DAT similar to those of trimipramine (see table to the right). Like other secondary amine TCAs, desmethyltrimipramine was slightly more potent than trimipramine in its norepinephrine reuptake inhibition but less potent in its inhibition of serotonin reuptake. However, desmethyltrimipramine still showed only very weak inhibition of the NET.

Therapeutic concentrations of trimipramine are between 0.5 and 1.2 μM (150-350 ng/mL) and hence significant monoamine reuptake inhibition would not be expected with it or its metabolites. However, these concentrations are nearly 2-fold higher if the active metabolites of trimipramine are also considered, and studies of other TCAs have found that they cross the blood-brain barrier and accumulate in the brain to levels of up to 10-fold those in the periphery. As such, trimipramine and its metabolites might at least partially inhibit reuptake of serotonin and/or norepinephrine, though not of dopamine, at therapeutic concentrations, and this could be hypothesized to contribute at least in part to its antidepressant effects. This is relevant as Haenisch et al. has stated that these are the only actions known at present which could explain or at least contribute to the antidepressant effects of trimipramine. That said, blockade of the 5-HT2A, 5-HT2C, and α2-adrenergic receptors, as with mirtazapine, has also been implicated in antidepressant effects.

In any case, there is also clinical and animal evidence that trimipramine does not inhibit the reuptake of monoamines. Unlike other TCAs, it does not downregulate β3-adrenergic receptors, which is likely the reason that it does not cause orthostatic hypotension. It can be safely combined with MAOIs apparently without risk of serotonin syndrome or hypertensive crisis. Indeed, in rabbits, whereas hyperpyrexia (a symptom of serotonin syndrome) occurs with imipramine and an MAOI and to a lesser extent with amitriptyline and an MAOI, it does not occur at all with trimipramine and an MAOI, likely due to trimipramine’s lack of serotonin reuptake inhibition.

Antihistamine Activity

Trimipramine is a very potent antihistamine; it has the third highest affinity for the H1 receptor (Ki = 0.27 nM) after mirtazapine (Ki = 0.14 nM) and doxepin (Ki = 0.24 nM) among the TCAs and tetracyclic antidepressants (TeCAs). The TeCA mianserin (Ki = 0.40) and the TCA amitriptyline (Ki = 1.0) are also very potent H1 receptor antagonists, whereas other TCAs and TeCAs are less potent. These TCAs and TeCAs, including trimipramine, are far more potent than the standard antihistamine diphenhydramine (approximately 800 times for doxepin and 250 times for trimipramine), and are among the most potent antihistamines available.

Trimipramine is also an antagonist of the H2 receptor with lower potency and has been found to be effective in the treatment of duodenal ulcers.

As a Hypnotic

Blockade of the H1 receptor is responsible for the sedative effects of trimipramine and other TCAs and their effectiveness in the treatment of insomnia.

Most antidepressants suppress REM sleep, in parallel with their alleviation of depressive symptoms (although suppression of REM sleep is not required for antidepressant effects). This includes TCAs (e.g. amitriptyline, nortriptyline), TeCAs (e.g. mianserin, maprotiline), MAOIs (e.g. clorgiline, pargyline), and SSRIs (e.g. fluoxetine, zimelidine, indalpine). Trimipramine is unique in that it is an exception and produces antidepressant effects without compromising or otherwise affecting REM sleep. Even long-term treatment with trimipramine for up to 2 years has not been found to suppress REM sleep. In addition, trimipramine has been found to decrease nocturnal cortisol levels to normal and to normalize cortisol response in depressed patients; hence, it normalizes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, whereas imipramine and other antidepressants tend to increase nocturnal cortisol secretion.

In clinical studies, trimipramine has been found in doses of 50 to 200 mg/day to significantly increase sleep efficiency and total sleep time and to decrease waking time for up to 3 weeks in patients with insomnia. It also improved subjectively perceived sleep quality and well-being during daytime. Monitoring of patients upon discontinuation of trimipramine found that it did not cause rebound insomnia or worsening of sleep quality in subjective evaluations of sleep, although objective measurements found total sleep time below baseline in a subset of patients during trimipramine withdrawal.

Antidopaminergic Activity

Trimipramine is a weak but significant antagonist of the dopamine D1 and D2 receptors, and also binds to the D4 receptor (Ki = 275 nM). Its affinities for various monoamine receptors including the D2 and 5-HT2A receptors closely resemble those of the atypical antipsychotic clozapine. In accordance, high doses of trimipramine have been found to have antipsychotic effects in schizophrenic patients, notably without causing extrapyramidal symptoms, and trimipramine has recently been found to be effective in reducing psychotic symptoms in patients with delusional depression. The lack of extrapyramidal symptoms with trimipramine may be related to its affinity for the D4 receptor, these both being properties it shares with clozapine. Unlike other TCAs, but reminiscent of antipsychotics, trimipramine has been found to markedly increase plasma prolactin levels (a marker of D2 receptor antagonism) at a dose of 75 mg/day and to increase nocturnal prolactin secretion at doses of 75 and 200 mg/day. These findings are suggestive of important antidopaminergic actions of trimipramine.

Unlike various other TCAs, trimipramine shows marked antagonism of presynaptic dopamine autoreceptors, potentially resulting in increased dopaminergic neurotransmission. This effect has also been observed with low-potency tricyclic antipsychotics like thioridazine and chlorprothixene. Notably, these two antipsychotics have been claimed many times to also possess antidepressant effects. As such, blockade of inhibitory dopamine autoreceptors and hence facilitation of dopaminergic signalling could be involved in the antidepressant effects of trimipramine. However, other authors have attributed the claimed antidepressant effects of antipsychotics like the two previously mentioned to α2-adrenergic receptor antagonism, although trimipramine specifically has only weak affinity for this receptor. Aside from antidepressant effects, low doses of antipsychotics have been found to increase REM sleep, and so dopamine autoreceptor antagonism could be involved in the unique effects of trimipramine in terms of REM sleep and sleep architecture.

Pharmacokinetics

The time to peak concentrations following a dose is 2 to 4 hours. The typical antidepressant therapeutic range of trimipramine concentrations is 150 to 300 ng/mL. The terminal half-life of trimipramine has been variously reported to be as little as 8 hours (in plasma) and as long as 24 hours. In any case, the terminal half-life of trimipramine is described as shorter than that of other TCAs, which makes it ideal for use in the treatment of insomnia.

Trimipramine is a racemic compound with two enantiomers. CYP2C19 is responsible for the demethylation of (D)- and (L)-trimipramine to (D)- (L)-desmethyltrimipramine, respectively, and CYP2D6 is responsible for the 2-hydroxylation of (D)- and (L)-desmethyltrimipramine to (D)- and (L)-2-hydroxydesmethyltrimipramine, respectively. CYP2D6 also metabolises (L)-trimipramine into (L)-2-hydroxytrimipramine.

Chemistry

Trimipramine is a tricyclic compound, specifically a dibenzazepine, and possesses three rings fused together with a side chain attached in its chemical structure. Other dibenzazepine TCAs include imipramine, desipramine, and clomipramine. Trimipramine is a derivative of imipramine with a methyl group added to its side chain and is also known as 2′-methylimipramine or β-methylimipramine. The tri- prefix in its name may allude to the fact that its side chain features three methyl groups. Trimipramine is a tertiary amine TCA, with its side chain-demethylated metabolite desmethyltrimipramine being a secondary amine. Other tertiary amine TCAs include amitriptyline, imipramine, clomipramine, dosulepin (dothiepin), and doxepin. The chemical name of trimipramine is 3-(10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[b,f]azepin-5-yl)-N,N,2-trimethylpropan-1-amine and its free base form has a chemical formula of C20H26N2 with a molecular weight of 294.434 g/mol. The drug is used commercially as the maleate salt. The CAS Registry Number of the free base is 739-71-9 and of the maleate is 521-78-8.

Society and Culture

Generic Names

Trimipramine is the generic name of the drug and its INN, USAN, BAN, and DCF, while trimipramine maleate is its USAN, USP, BANM, and JAN. Its generic name in Latin is trimipraminum, in German is trimipramin, and in Spanish is trimipramina.

Brand Names

Trimipramine is marketed throughout the world mainly under the brand name Surmontil. Other notable brand names of trimipramine have included Herphonal, Rhotrimine, Sapilent, Stangyl, and Tydamine.

Availability

Trimipramine is no longer marketed in Australia, though it was previously.

What is Serotonin Syndrome?

Introduction

Serotonin syndrome (SS) is a group of symptoms that may occur with the use of certain serotonergic medications or drugs.

Not to be confused with Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome.

The degree of symptoms can range from mild to severe, including a potentiality of death. Symptoms in mild cases include high blood pressure and a fast heart rate; usually without a fever. Symptoms in moderate cases include high body temperature, agitation, increased reflexes, tremor, sweating, dilated pupils, and diarrhoea. In severe cases body temperature can increase to greater than 41.1 °C (106.0 °F). Complications may include seizures and extensive muscle breakdown.

Serotonin syndrome is typically caused by the use of two or more serotonergic medications or drugs. This may include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), amphetamines, pethidine (meperidine), tramadol, dextromethorphan, buspirone, L-tryptophan, 5-HTP, St. John’s wort, triptans, ecstasy (MDMA), metoclopramide, or cocaine. It occurs in about 15% of SSRI overdoses. It is a predictable consequence of excess serotonin on the central nervous system (CNS). Onset of symptoms is typically within a day of the extra serotonin.

Diagnosis is based on a person’s symptoms and history of medication use. Other conditions that can produce similar symptoms such as neuroleptic malignant syndrome, malignant hyperthermia, anticholinergic toxicity, heat stroke, and meningitis should be ruled out. No laboratory tests can confirm the diagnosis.

Initial treatment consists of discontinuing medications which may be contributing. In those who are agitated, benzodiazepines may be used. If this is not sufficient, a serotonin antagonist such as cyproheptadine may be used. In those with a high body temperature active cooling measures may be needed. The number of cases of serotonin syndrome that occur each year is unclear. With appropriate treatment the risk of death is less than one percent. The high-profile case of Libby Zion, who is generally accepted to have died from serotonin syndrome, resulted in changes to graduate medical education in New York State.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptom onset is usually rapid, often occurring within minutes of elevated serotonin levels. Serotonin syndrome encompasses a wide range of clinical findings. Mild symptoms may consist of increased heart rate, shivering, sweating, dilated pupils, myoclonus (intermittent jerking or twitching), as well as overresponsive reflexes. However, many of these symptoms may be side effects of the drug or drug interaction causing excessive levels of serotonin; not an effect of elevated serotonin itself. Tremor is a common side effect of MDMA’s action on dopamine, whereas hyperreflexia is symptomatic of exposure to serotonin agonists. Moderate intoxication includes additional abnormalities such as hyperactive bowel sounds, high blood pressure and hyperthermia; a temperature as high as 40 °C (104 °F). The overactive reflexes and clonus in moderate cases may be greater in the lower limbs than in the upper limbs. Mental changes include hypervigilance or insomnia and agitation. Severe symptoms include severe increases in heart rate and blood pressure that may lead to shock. Temperature may rise to above 41.1 °C (106.0 °F) in life-threatening cases. Other abnormalities include metabolic acidosis, rhabdomyolysis, seizures, kidney failure, and disseminated intravascular coagulation; these effects usually arising as a consequence of hyperthermia.

The symptoms are often described as a clinical triad of abnormalities:

  • Cognitive effects: headache, agitation, hypomania, mental confusion, hallucinations, coma.
  • Autonomic effects: shivering, sweating, hyperthermia, vasoconstriction, tachycardia, nausea, diarrhoea.
  • Somatic effects: myoclonus (muscle twitching), hyperreflexia (manifested by clonus), tremor.

Cause

A large number of medications and street drugs can cause serotonin syndrome when taken alone at high doses or in combination with other serotonergic drugs. The table below lists some of these drugs.

ClassDrugs
AntidepressantsMAOIs, TCAs, SSRIs, SNRIs, nefazodone, and trazodone.
OpioidsDextropropoxyphene, tramadol, tapentadol, pethidine (meperidine), fentanyl, pentazocine, buprenorphine oxycodone, and hydrocodone.
Central Nervous System StimulantsMDMA, MDA, methamphetamine, lisdexamfetamine, amphetamine, phentermine, amfepramone (diethylpropion), serotonin releasing agents like hallucinogenic substituted amphetamines, sibutramine, methylphenidate, and cocaine.
5-HT1 AgonistsTriptans
Psychedelics5-Methoxy-diisopropyltryptamine, alpha-methyltryptamine, and LSD.
HerbsSt John’s Wort, Syrian rue, Panax ginseng, Nutmeg, and Yohimbe.
OthersTryptophan, L-Dopa, valproate, buspirone, lithium, linezolid, dextromethorphan, 5-hydroxytryptophan, chlorpheniramine, risperidone, olanzapine, ondansetron, granisetron, metoclopramide, ritonavir, and metaxalone.

Many cases of serotonin toxicity occur in people who have ingested drug combinations that synergistically increase synaptic serotonin. It may also occur due to an overdose of a single serotonergic agent. The combination of MAOIs with precursors such as L-tryptophan or 5-HTP pose a particularly acute risk of life-threatening serotonin syndrome. The case of combination of MAOIs with tryptamine agonists (commonly known as ayahuasca) can present similar dangers as their combination with precursors, but this phenomenon has been described in general terms as the “cheese effect”. Many MAOIs irreversibly inhibit monoamine oxidase. It can take at least four weeks for this enzyme to be replaced by the body in the instance of irreversible inhibitors. With respect to tricyclic antidepressants only clomipramine and imipramine have a risk of causing SS.

Many medications may have been incorrectly thought to cause serotonin syndrome. For example, some case reports have implicated atypical antipsychotics in serotonin syndrome, but it appears based on their pharmacology that they are unlikely to cause the syndrome. It has also been suggested that mirtazapine has no significant serotonergic effects, and is therefore not a dual action drug. Bupropion has also been suggested to cause serotonin syndrome, although as there is no evidence that it has any significant serotonergic activity, it is thought unlikely to produce the syndrome. In 2006 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert suggesting that the combined use of SSRIs or SNRIs and triptan medications or sibutramine could potentially lead to severe cases of serotonin syndrome. This has been disputed by other researchers as none of the cases reported by the FDA met the Hunter criteria for serotonin syndrome. The condition has however occurred in surprising clinical situations, and because of phenotypic variations among individuals, it has been associated with unexpected drugs, including mirtazapine.

The relative risk and severity of serotonergic side effects and serotonin toxicity, with individual drugs and combinations, is complex. Serotonin syndrome has been reported in patients of all ages, including the elderly, children, and even newborn infants due to in utero exposure. The serotonergic toxicity of SSRIs increases with dose, but even in over-dose it is insufficient to cause fatalities from serotonin syndrome in healthy adults. Elevations of central nervous system serotonin will typically only reach potentially fatal levels when drugs with different mechanisms of action are mixed together. Various drugs, other than SSRIs, also have clinically significant potency as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, (e.g. tramadol, amphetamine, and MDMA) and are associated with severe cases of the syndrome.

Although the most significant health risk associated with opioid overdoses is respiratory depression, it is still possible for an individual to develop serotonin syndrome from certain opioids without the loss of consciousness. However, most cases of opioid-related serotonin syndrome involve the concurrent use of a serotergenic drug such as antidepressants. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon for individuals taking opioids to also be taking antidepressants due to the comorbidity of pain and depression.

Cases where opioids alone are the cause of serotonin syndrome are typically seen with tramadol, because of its dual mechanism as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. Serotonin syndrome caused by tramadol can be particularly problematic if an individual taking the drug is unaware of the risks associated with it and attempts to self-medicate symptoms such as headache, agitation, and tremors with more opioids, further exacerbating the condition.

Pathophysiology

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in multiple complex biological processes including aggression, pain, sleep, appetite, anxiety, depression, migraine, and vomiting. In humans the effects of excess serotonin were first noted in 1960 in patients receiving a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) and tryptophan. The syndrome is caused by increased serotonin in the central nervous system. It was originally suspected that agonism of 5-HT1A receptors in central grey nuclei and the medulla was responsible for the development of the syndrome. Further study has determined that overstimulation of primarily the 5-HT2A receptors appears to contribute substantially to the condition. The 5-HT1A receptor may still contribute through a pharmacodynamic interaction in which increased synaptic concentrations of a serotonin agonist saturate all receptor subtypes. Additionally, noradrenergic CNS hyperactivity may play a role as CNS norepinephrine concentrations are increased in serotonin syndrome and levels appear to correlate with the clinical outcome. Other neurotransmitters may also play a role; NMDA receptor antagonists and GABA have been suggested as affecting the development of the syndrome. Serotonin toxicity is more pronounced following supra-therapeutic doses and overdoses, and they merge in a continuum with the toxic effects of overdose.

Spectrum Concept

A postulated “spectrum concept” of serotonin toxicity emphasises the role that progressively increasing serotonin levels play in mediating the clinical picture as side effects merge into toxicity. The dose-effect relationship is the effects of progressive elevation of serotonin, either by raising the dose of one drug, or combining it with another serotonergic drug which may produce large elevations in serotonin levels. Some experts prefer the terms serotonin toxicity or serotonin toxidrome, to more accurately reflect that it is a form of poisoning.

Diagnosis

There is no specific test for serotonin syndrome. Diagnosis is by symptom observation and investigation of the person’s history. Several criteria have been proposed. The first evaluated criteria were introduced in 1991 by Harvey Sternbach. Researchers later developed the Hunter Toxicity Criteria Decision Rules, which have better sensitivity and specificity, 84% and 97%, respectively, when compared with the gold standard of diagnosis by a medical toxicologist. As of 2007, Sternbach’s criteria were still the most commonly used.

The most important symptoms for diagnosing serotonin syndrome are tremor, extreme aggressiveness, akathisia, or clonus (spontaneous, inducible and ocular). Physical examination of the patient should include assessment of deep-tendon reflexes and muscle rigidity, the dryness of the mucosa of the mouth, the size and reactivity of the pupils, the intensity of bowel sounds, skin colour, and the presence or absence of sweating. The patient’s history also plays an important role in diagnosis, investigations should include inquiries about the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, illicit substances, and dietary supplements, as all these agents have been implicated in the development of serotonin syndrome. To fulfil the Hunter Criteria, a patient must have taken a serotonergic agent and meet one of the following conditions:

  • Spontaneous clonus, or
  • Inducible clonus plus agitation or diaphoresis, or
  • Ocular clonus plus agitation or diaphoresis, or
  • Tremor plus hyperreflexia, or
  • Hypertonism plus temperature > 38 °C (100 °F) plus ocular clonus or inducible clonus.

Differential Diagnosis

Serotonin toxicity has a characteristic picture which is generally hard to confuse with other medical conditions, but in some situations it may go unrecognized because it may be mistaken for a viral illness, anxiety disorders, neurological disorder, anticholinergic poisoning, sympathomimetic toxicity, or worsening psychiatric condition. The condition most often confused with serotonin syndrome is neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS). The clinical features of neuroleptic malignant syndrome and serotonin syndrome share some features which can make differentiating them difficult. In both conditions, autonomic dysfunction and altered mental status develop. However, they are actually very different conditions with different underlying dysfunction (serotonin excess vs dopamine blockade). Both the time course and the clinical features of NMS differ significantly from those of serotonin toxicity. Serotonin toxicity has a rapid onset after the administration of a serotonergic drug and responds to serotonin blockade such as drugs like chlorpromazine and cyproheptadine. Dopamine receptor blockade (NMS) has a slow onset, typically evolves over several days after administration of a neuroleptic drug, and responds to dopamine agonists such as bromocriptine.

Differential diagnosis may become difficult in patients recently exposed to both serotonergic and neuroleptic drugs. Bradykinesia and extrapyramidal “lead pipe” rigidity are classically present in NMS, whereas serotonin syndrome causes hyperkinesia and clonus; these distinct symptoms can aid in differentiation.

Management

Management is based primarily on stopping the usage of the precipitating drugs, the administration of serotonin antagonists such as cyproheptadine, and supportive care including the control of agitation, the control of autonomic instability, and the control of hyperthermia. Additionally, those who ingest large doses of serotonergic agents may benefit from gastrointestinal decontamination with activated charcoal if it can be administered within an hour of overdose. The intensity of therapy depends on the severity of symptoms. If the symptoms are mild, treatment may only consist of discontinuation of the offending medication or medications, offering supportive measures, giving benzodiazepines for myoclonus, and waiting for the symptoms to resolve. Moderate cases should have all thermal and cardiorespiratory abnormalities corrected and can benefit from serotonin antagonists. The serotonin antagonist cyproheptadine is the recommended initial therapy, although there have been no controlled trials demonstrating its efficacy for serotonin syndrome. Despite the absence of controlled trials, there are a number of case reports detailing apparent improvement after people have been administered cyproheptadine. Animal experiments also suggest a benefit from serotonin antagonists. Cyproheptadine is only available as tablets and therefore can only be administered orally or via a nasogastric tube; it is unlikely to be effective in people administered activated charcoal and has limited use in severe cases. Cyproheptadine can be stopped when the person is no longer experiencing symptoms and the half life of serotonergic medications already passed.

Additional pharmacological treatment for severe case includes administering atypical antipsychotic drugs with serotonin antagonist activity such as olanzapine. Critically ill people should receive the above therapies as well as sedation or neuromuscular paralysis. People who have autonomic instability such as low blood pressure require treatment with direct-acting sympathomimetics such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, or phenylephrine.[6] Conversely, hypertension or tachycardia can be treated with short-acting antihypertensive drugs such as nitroprusside or esmolol; longer acting drugs such as propranolol should be avoided as they may lead to hypotension and shock. The cause of serotonin toxicity or accumulation is an important factor in determining the course of treatment. Serotonin is catabolized by monoamine oxidase A in the presence of oxygen, so if care is taken to prevent an unsafe spike in body temperature or metabolic acidosis, oxygenation will assist in dispatching the excess serotonin. The same principle applies to alcohol intoxication. In cases of serotonin syndrome caused by monoamine oxidase inhibitors oxygenation will not help to dispatch serotonin. In such instances, hydration is the main concern until the enzyme is regenerated.

Agitation

Specific treatment for some symptoms may be required. One of the most important treatments is the control of agitation due to the extreme possibility of injury to the person themselves or caregivers, benzodiazepines should be administered at first sign of this. Physical restraints are not recommended for agitation or delirium as they may contribute to mortality by enforcing isometric muscle contractions that are associated with severe lactic acidosis and hyperthermia. If physical restraints are necessary for severe agitation they must be rapidly replaced with pharmacological sedation. The agitation can cause a large amount of muscle breakdown. This breakdown can cause severe damage to the kidneys through a condition called rhabdomyolysis.

Hyperthermia

Treatment for hyperthermia includes reducing muscle overactivity via sedation with a benzodiazepine. More severe cases may require muscular paralysis with vecuronium, intubation, and artificial ventilation. Suxamethonium is not recommended for muscular paralysis as it may increase the risk of cardiac dysrhythmia from hyperkalaemia associated with rhabdomyolysis. Antipyretic agents are not recommended as the increase in body temperature is due to muscular activity, not a hypothalamic temperature set point abnormality.

Prognosis

Upon the discontinuation of serotonergic drugs, most cases of serotonin syndrome resolve within 24 hours, although in some cases delirium may persist for a number of days. Symptoms typically persist for a longer time frame in patients taking drugs which have a long elimination half-life, active metabolites, or a protracted duration of action.

Cases have reported persisting chronic symptoms, and antidepressant discontinuation may contribute to ongoing features. Following appropriate medical management, serotonin syndrome is generally associated with a favourable prognosis.

Epidemiology

Epidemiological studies of serotonin syndrome are difficult as many physicians are unaware of the diagnosis or they may miss the syndrome due to its variable manifestations. In 1998 a survey conducted in England found that 85% of the general practitioners that had prescribed the antidepressant nefazodone were unaware of serotonin syndrome. The incidence may be increasing as a larger number of pro-serotonergic drugs (drugs which increase serotonin levels) are now being used in clinical practice. One post-marketing surveillance study identified an incidence of 0.4 cases per 1000 patient-months for patients who were taking nefazodone. Additionally, around 14 to 16 percent of persons who overdose on SSRIs are thought to develop serotonin syndrome.

Notable Cases

The most widely recognised example of serotonin syndrome was the death of Libby Zion in 1984. Zion was a freshman at Bennington College at her death on 05 March 1984, at age 18. She died within 8 hours of her emergency admission to the New York Hospital Cornell Medical Centre. She had an ongoing history of depression, and came to the Manhattan hospital on the evening of 04 March 1984, with a fever, agitation and “strange jerking motions” of her body. She also seemed disoriented at times. The emergency room physicians were unable to diagnose her condition definitively but admitted her for hydration and observation. Her death was caused by a combination of pethidine and phenelzine. A medical intern prescribed the pethidine. The case influenced graduate medical education and residency work hours. Limits were set on working hours for medical postgraduates, commonly referred to as interns or residents, in hospital training programmes, and they also now require closer senior physician supervision.

What is a Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor?

Introduction

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are a class of antidepressant drugs that treat major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social phobia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), chronic neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), and menopausal symptoms. SNRIs are monoamine reuptake inhibitors; specifically, they inhibit the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are thought to play an important role in mood regulation. SNRIs can be contrasted with the more widely used selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which act upon serotonin only.

The human serotonin transporter (SERT) and norepinephrine transporter (NET) are membrane transport proteins that are responsible for the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine from the synaptic cleft back into the presynaptic nerve terminal. Dual inhibition of serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake can offer advantages over other antidepressant drugs by treating a wider range of symptoms. They can be especially useful in concomitant chronic or neuropathic pain.

SNRIs, along with SSRIs and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (NRIs), are second-generation antidepressants. Over the past two decades, second-generation antidepressants have simply replaced first-generation antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), as the drugs of choice for the treatment of MDD due to their improved tolerability and safety profile.

Medications

There are eight FDA approved SNRIs in the United States, with venlafaxine being the first drug to be developed in 1993 and levomilnacipran being the latest drug to be developed in 2013. The drugs vary by their other medical uses, chemical structure, adverse effects, and efficacy.

  • Atomoxetine.
  • Desvenlafaxine.
  • Duloxetine.
  • Levomilnacipran.
  • Milnacipran.
  • Sibutramine.
  • Tramadol.
  • Venlafaxine.

Brief History

Refer to Development and Discovery of SSRI Drugs.

In 1952, iproniazid, an antimycobacterial agent, was discovered to have psychoactive properties while researched as a possible treatment for tuberculosis. Researchers noted that patients given iproniazid became cheerful, more optimistic, and more physically active. Soon after its development, iproniazid and related substances were shown to slow enzymatic breakdown of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine via inhibition of the enzyme monoamine oxidase. For this reason, this class of drugs became known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs. During this time development of distinctively different antidepressant agents was also researched. Imipramine became the first clinically useful tricyclic antidepressant (TCA). Imipramine was found to affect numerous neurotransmitter systems and to block the reuptake of norepinephrine and serotonin from the synapse, therefore increasing the levels of these neurotransmitters. Use of MAOIs and TCAs gave major advances in treatment of depression but their use was limited by unpleasant side effects and significant safety and toxicity issues.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the catecholamine hypothesis of emotion and its relation to depression was of wide interest and that the decreased levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine might play a role in the pathogenesis of depression. This led to the development of fluoxetine, the first SSRI. The improved safety and tolerability profile of the SSRIs in patients with MDD, compared with TCAs and MAOIs, represented yet another important advance in the treatment of depression.

Since the late 1980s, SSRIs have dominated the antidepressant drug market. Today, there is increased interest in antidepressant drugs with broader mechanisms of action that may offer improvements in efficacy and tolerability. In 1993, a new drug was introduced to the US market called venlafaxine, a SNRI. Venlafaxine was the first compound described in a new class of antidepressive substances called phenylethylamines. These substances are unrelated to TCA and other SSRIs. Venlafaxine blocks the neuronal reuptake of serotonin, noradrenaline, and, to a lesser extent, dopamine in the central nervous system. In contrast with several other antidepressant drugs, venlafaxine can induce a rapid onset of action mainly due to a subsequent norepinephrine reuptake inhibition.

Mechanism of Action

Monoamines are connected to the pathophysiology of depression. Symptoms may occur because concentrations of neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and serotonin, are insufficient, leading to downstream changes. Medications for depression affect the transmission of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Older and more unselective antidepressants like TCAs and MAOIs inhibit the reuptake or metabolism of norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain, which results in higher concentrations of neurotransmitters. Antidepressants that have dual mechanisms of action inhibit the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine and, in some cases, inhibit with weak effect the reuptake of dopamine. Antidepressants affect variable neuronal receptors like muscarinic-cholinergic, α1- and α2-adrenergic, and H1-histaminergic receptors, and sodium channels in the cardiac muscle, leading to decreased cardiac conduction and cardiotoxicity {source needed}. Selectivity of antidepressant agents are based on the neurotransmitters that are thought to influence symptoms of depression. Drugs that selectively block the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine effectively treat depression and are better tolerated than TCAs. TCAs have comprehensive effects on various neurotransmitters receptors, which leads to lack of tolerability and increased risk of toxicity.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

TCAs were the first medications that had dual mechanism of action. The mechanism of action of tricyclic secondary amine antidepressants is only partly understood. TCAs have dual inhibition effects on norepinephrine reuptake transporters and serotonin reuptake transporters. Increased norepinephrine and serotonin concentrations are obtained by inhibiting both of these transporter proteins. TCAs have substantially more affinity for norepinephrine reuptake proteins than the SSRIs. This is because of a formation of secondary amine TCA metabolites.

In addition, the TCAs interact with adrenergic receptors. This interaction seems to be critical for increased availability of norepinephrine in or near the synaptic clefts. Actions of imipramine-like tricyclic antidepressants have complex, secondary adaptions to their initial and sustained actions as inhibitors of norepinephrine transport and variable blockade of serotonin transport.

Norepinephrine interacts with postsynaptic α and β adrenergic receptor subtypes and presynaptic α2 autoreceptors. The α2 receptors include presynaptic autoreceptors which limit the neurophysiological activity of noradrenergic neurons in the central nervous system. Formation of norepinephrine is reduced by autoreceptors through the rate-limiting enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase, an effect mediated by decreased cyclic AMP-mediated phosphorylation-activation of the enzyme. α2 receptors also cause decreased intracellular cyclic AMP expression which results in smooth muscle relaxation or decreased secretion.

TCAs activate a negative feedback mechanism through their effects on presynaptic receptors. One probable explanation for the effects on decreased neurotransmitter release is that, as the receptors activate, inhibition of neurotransmitter release occurs (including suppression of voltage-gated Ca2+ currents and activation of G protein-coupled receptor-operated K+ currents). Repeated exposure of agents with this type of mechanism leads to inhibition of neurotransmitter release, but repeated administration of TCAs finally leads to decreased responses by α2 receptors. The desensitization of these responses may be due to increased exposure to endogenous norepinephrine or from the prolonged occupation of the norepinephrine transport mechanisms (via an allosteric effect). The adaptation allows the presynaptic synthesis and secretion of norepinephrine to return to, or even exceed, normal levels of norepinephrine in the synaptic clefts. Overall, inhibition of norepinephrine reuptake induced by TCAs leads to decreased rates of neuron firing (mediated through α2 autoreceptors), metabolic activity, and release of neurotransmitters.

TCAs do not block dopamine transport directly but might facilitate dopaminergic effects indirectly by inhibiting dopamine transport into noradrenergic terminals of the cerebral cortex. Because they affect so many different receptors, TCAs have adverse effects, poor tolerability, and an increased risk of toxicity.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) selectively inhibit the reuptake of serotonin and are a widely used group of antidepressants. With increased receptor selectivity compared to TCAs, undesired effects such as poor tolerability are avoided. Serotonin is synthesized from an amino acid called L-tryptophan. Active transport system regulates the uptake of tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier. Serotonergic pathways are classified into two main ways in the brain: the ascending projections from the medial and dorsal raphe and the descending projections from the caudal raphe into the spinal cord.

Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors

Noradrenergic neurons are located in two major regions in the brain. These regions are locus coeruleus and lateral tegmental. With administration of SNRIs, neuronal activity in locus coeruleus region is induced because of increased concentration of norepinephrine in the synaptic cleft. This results in activation of α2 adrenergic receptors, as discussed previously.

Assays have shown that SNRIs have insignificant penchant for mACh, α1 and α2 adrenergic, or H1 receptors.

Dual Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors

Agents with dual serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibition (SNRIs) are sometimes called non-tricyclic serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Clinical studies suggest that compounds that increase the concentration in the synaptic cleft of both norepinephrine and serotonin are more successful than single acting agents in the treatment of depression, but the data is not conclusive whether SNRIs are a more effective treatment option over SSRIs for depression. Dual reuptake inhibitors have low affinity at neuronal receptors of the other neurotransmitters, which have low adverse effects compared with the TCAs. Nontricyclic antidepressants have improved potency and onset action acceleration in antidepressant response than SSRIs alone, which give the impression that synergism is an efficient property in mediating antidepressant activity.

The non-tricyclic SNRIs have several important differences that are based on pharmacokinetics, metabolism to active metabolites, inhibition of CYP isoforms, effect of drug-drug interactions, and the half-life of the nontricyclic SNRIs.

Combination of mechanisms of action in a single active agent is an important development in psychopharmacology.

Structure Activity Relationship (SAR)

Aryloxypropanamine Scaffold

Several reuptake inhibitors contain an aryloxypropanamine scaffold. This structural motif has potential for high affinity binding to biogenic amine transports. Drugs containing an aryloxypropanamine scaffold have selectivity profile for norepinephrine and serotonin transporters that depends on the substitution pattern of the aryloxy ring. Selective NRIs contain a substituent in 2′ position of the aryloxy ring but SSRIs contain a substituent in 4′ position of the aryloxy ring. Atomoxetine, nisoxetine and reboxetine all have a substitution group in the 2′ position and are selective NRIs while compounds that have a substitution group in the 4′ position (like fluoxetine and paroxetine) are SSRIs. Duloxetine contains a phenyl group fused at the 2′ and 3′ positions, therefore it has dual selective norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake inhibitory effects and has similar potencies for the both transporters. The nature of the aromatic substituent also has a significant influence on the activity and selectivity of the compounds as inhibitors of the serotonin or the norepinephrine transporters.

Cycloalkanol Ethylamine Scaffold

Venlafaxine and desvenlafaxine contain a cycloalkanol ethylamine scaffold. Increasing the electron-withdrawing nature of the aromatic ring provides a more potent inhibitory effect of norepinephrine uptake and improves the selectivity for norepinephrine over the serotonin transporter. Effects of chloro, methoxy and trifluoromethyl substituents in the aromatic ring of cycloalkanol ethylamine scaffold were tested. The results showed that the strongest electron-withdrawing m-trifluoromethyl analogue exhibited the most potent inhibitory effect of norepinephrine and the most selectivity over serotonin uptake. WY-46824, a piperazine-containing derivative, has shown norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibition. Further synthesis and testing identified WAY-256805, a potent norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor that exhibited excellent selectivity and was efficacious in animal models of depression, pain, and thermoregulatory dysfunction.

Milnacipran

Milnacipran is structurally different from other SNRIs. The SAR of milnacipran derivatives at transporter level is still largely unclear and is based on in vivo efficacy that was reported in 1987. N-methylation of milnacipran in substituent group R4 and R5 reduces the norepinephrine and serotonin activity. Researches on different secondary amides in substitution groups R6 and R7 showed that π electrons play an important role in the interaction between transporters and ligands. A phenyl group in substituent R6 showed effect on norepinephrine transporters. Substituent groups in R6 and R7 with allylic double bond showed significant improved effect on both norepinephrine and serotonin transporters. Studies show that introducing a 2-methyl group in substituent R3, the potency at norepinephrine and serotonin transporters are almost abolished. Methyl groups in substituent groups R1 and R2 also abolish the potency at norepinephrine and serotonin transporters. Researchers found that replacing one of the ethyl groups of milnacipran with an allyl moiety increases the norepinephrine potency. The pharmacophore of milnacipran derivatives is still largely unclear.

The conformation of milnacipran is an important part of its pharmacophore. Changing the SAR in milnacipran changes the stereochemistry of the compound and affects the norepinephrine and serotonin concentration. Milnacipran is marketed as a racemic mixture. Effects of milnacipran reside in the (1S,2R)-isomer and substitution of the phenyl group in the (1S,2R)-isomer has negative impact on norepinephrine concentration. Milnacipran has low molecular weight and low lipophilicity. Because of these properties, milnacipran exhibits almost ideal pharmacokinetics in humans such as high bioavailability, low inter-subject variability, limited liver enzyme interaction, moderate tissue distribution and a reasonably long elimination half-life. Milnacipran’s lack of drug-drug interactions via cytochrome P450 enzymes is thought to be an attractive feature because many of the central nervous system drugs are highly lipophilic and are mainly eliminated by liver enzymes.

Future Development of SAR

The application of an aryloxypropanamine scaffold has generated a number of potent MAOIs. Before the development of duloxetine, the exploration of aryloxypropanamine SAR resulted in the identification of fluoxetine and atomoxetine. The same motif can be found in reboxetine where it is constrained in a morpholine ring system. Some studies have been made where the oxygen in reboxetine is replaced by sulfur to give arylthiomethyl morpholine. Some of the arylthiomethyl morpholine derivatives maintain potent levels of serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibition. Dual serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibition resides in different enantiomers for arylthiomethyl morpholine scaffold. Possible drug candidates with dual serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitory activity have also been derived from piperazine, 3-amino-pyrrolidine and benzylamine templates.

Clinical Trials

Depression

Several studies have shown that antidepressant drugs which have combined serotonergic and noradrenergic activity are generally more effective than SSRIs, which act upon serotonin reuptake by itself. Serotonergic-noradrenergic antidepressant drugs may have a modest efficacy advantage compared to SSRIs in treating major depressive disorder (MDD), but are slightly less well tolerated. Further research is needed to examine the possible differences of efficacy in specific MDD sub-populations or for specific MDD symptoms, between these classes of antidepressant drugs.

Analgesic

Data from clinical trials have indicated that SNRIs might have pain relieving properties. Although the perception and transmission of pain stimuli in the central nervous system have not been fully elucidated, extensive data support a role for serotonin and norepinephrine in the modulation of pain. Findings from clinical trials in humans have shown these antidepressants can to reduce pain and functional impairment in central and neuropathic pain conditions. This property of SNRIs might be used to reduce doses of other pain relieving medication and lower the frequency of safety, limited efficacy and tolerability issues. Clinical research data have shown in patients with GAD that the SNRI duloxetine is significantly more effective than placebo in reducing pain-related symptoms of GAD, after short-term and long-term treatment. However, findings suggested that such symptoms of physical pain reoccur in relapse situations, which indicates a need for ongoing treatment in patients with GAD and concurrent painful physical symptoms.

Indications

SNRIs have been tested for treatment of the following conditions:

Pharmacology

Route of Administration

SNRIs are delivered orally, usually in the form of capsules or tablets. It is recommended to take SNRIs in the morning with breakfast, which does not affect drug levels, but may help with certain side effects. Norepinephrine has activating effects in the body and therefore can cause insomnia in some patients if taken at bedtime. SNRIs can also cause nausea, which is usually mild and goes away within a few weeks of treatment, but taking the medication with food can help alleviate this. The drugs themselves are usually a fine crystalline powder that diffuses into the body during digestion.

Dosage

Dosages vary depending on the SNRI used due to varying potencies of the drug in question as well as multiple strengths for each drug.

Mode of Action

The condition for which SNRIs are mostly indicated, major depressive disorder, is thought to be mainly caused by decreased levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the synaptic cleft, causing erratic signalling. Based on the monoamine hypothesis of depression, which asserts that decreased concentrations of monoamine neurotransmitters leads to depressive symptoms, the following relations were determined: “Norepinephrine may be related to alertness and energy as well as anxiety, attention, and interest in life; [lack of] serotonin to anxiety, obsessions, and compulsions; and dopamine to attention, motivation, pleasure, and reward, as well as interest in life.” SNRIs work by inhibiting the reuptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. This results in increased extracellular concentrations of serotonin and norepinephrine and, consequently, an increase in neurotransmission. Most SNRIs including venlafaxine, desvenlafaxine, and duloxetine, are several fold more selective for serotonin over norepinephrine, while milnacipran is three times more selective for norepinephrine than serotonin. Elevation of norepinephrine levels is thought to be necessary for an antidepressant to be effective against neuropathic pain, a property shared with the older tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), but not with the SSRIs.

Recent studies have shown that depression may be linked to increased inflammatory response, thus attempts at finding an additional mechanism for SNRIs have been made. Studies have shown that SNRIs as well as SSRIs have significant anti-inflammatory action on microglia in addition to their effect on serotonin and norepinephrine levels. As such, it is possible that an additional mechanism of these drugs that acts in combination with the previously understood mechanism exist. The implication behind these findings suggests use of SNRIs as potential anti-inflammatories following brain injury or any other disease where swelling of the brain is an issue. However, regardless of the mechanism, the efficacy of these drugs in treating the diseases for which they have been indicated has been proven, both clinically and in practice.

Pharmacodynamics

Most SNRIs function alongside primary metabolites and secondary metabolites in order to inhibit reuptake of serotonin, norepinepherine, and marginal amounts of dopamine. For example, venlafaxine works alongside its primary metabolite O-desmethylvenlafaxine to strongly inhibit serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake in the brain. The evidence also suggests that dopamine and norepinepherine behave in a co-transportational manner, due to the inactivation of dopamine by norepinephrine reuptake in the frontal cortex, an area of the brain largely lacking in dopamine transporters. This effect of SNRIs results in increased dopamine neurotransmission, in addition to the increases in serotonin and norepinephrine activity. Furthermore, because SNRIs are extremely selective, they have no measurable effects on other, unintended receptors, in contrast to monoamine oxidase inhibition. Pharmaceutical tests have determined that use of both SNRIs or SSRIs can generate significant anti-inflammatory action on microglia, as well.

Pharmacokinetics

The half-life of venlafaxine is about 5 hours, and with once-daily dosing, steady-state concentration is achieved after about 3 days, though its active metabolite desvenlafaxine lasts longer. The half-life of desvenlafaxine is about 11 hours, and steady-state concentrations are achieved after 4 to 5 days. The half-life of duloxetine is about 12 hours (range: 8-17 hours), and steady-state is achieved after about 3 days. Milnacipran has a half-life of about 6 to 8 hours, and steady-state levels are reached within 36 to 48 hours.

Contraindications

SNRIs are contraindicated in patients taking MAOIs within the last two weeks due to the increased risk of serotonin syndrome, which can be life-threatening.[65] Other drugs and substances that should be avoided due to increased risk of serotonin syndrome when combined with an SNRI include: other anti-depressants, anti-convulsants, analgesics, antiemetic agents, anti-migraine medications, methylene blue, linezolid, Lithium, St. John’s worts, ecstasy, and LSD. Signs and symptoms of serotonin syndrome include: hyperthermia, rigidity, myoclonus, autonomic instability with fluctuating vital signs, and mental status changes that include extreme agitation progressing to delirium and coma.

Due to the effects of increased norepinephrine levels and, therefore, higher noradrenergic activity, pre-existing hypertension should be controlled before treatment with SNRIs and blood pressure periodically monitored throughout treatment. Duloxetine has also been associated with cases of liver failure and should not be prescribed to patients with chronic alcohol use or liver disease. Studies have found that Duloxetine can increase liver function tests three times above their upper normal limit. Patients suffering from coronary artery disease should caution the use of SNRIs. Furthermore, due to some SNRIs’ actions on obesity, patients with major eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia should not be prescribed SNRIs. Duloxetine and milnacipran are also contraindicated in patients with uncontrolled narrow-angle glaucoma, as they have been shown to increase incidence of mydriasis.

Side Effects

Because the SNRIs and SSRIs act in similar ways to elevate serotonin levels, they share many side effects, though to varying degrees. The most common side effects include nausea/vomiting, sweating, loss of appetite, dizziness, headache, increase in suicidal thoughts, and sexual dysfunction. Elevation of norepinephrine levels can sometimes cause anxiety, mildly elevated pulse, and elevated blood pressure. However, norepinephrine-selective antidepressants, such as reboxetine and desipramine, have successfully treated anxiety disorders. People at risk for hypertension and heart disease should monitor their blood pressure. The side effects of upset stomach may be decreased by taking SNRIs with food.

Sexual Dysfunction

SNRIs, similarly to SSRIs, can cause several types of sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, sexual anhedonia, and anorgasmia. The two common sexual side effects are diminished interest in sex (libido) and difficulty reaching climax (anorgasmia), which are usually somewhat milder with SNRIs compared to SSRIs. To manage sexual dysfunction, studies have shown that switching to or augmenting with bupropion or adding a PDE5 Inhibitor have decreased symptoms of sexual dysfunction. Studies have shown that PDE5 Inhibitors, such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra), and avanafil (Stendra), have sometimes been helpful to decrease the sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction, although they have been shown to be more effective in men than women.

Serotonin Syndrome

A serious, but rare, side effect of SNRIs is serotonin syndrome, which is caused by an excess of serotonin in the body. Serotonin syndrome can be caused by taking multiple serotonergic drugs, such as SSRIs or SNRIs. Other drugs that contribute to serotonin syndrome include MAO inhibitors, linezolid, tedizolid, methylene blue, procarbazine, amphetamines, clomipramine, and more. Early symptoms of serotonin syndrome may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, sweating, agitation, confusion, muscle rigidity, dilated pupils, hyperthermia, rigidity, and goose bumps. More severe symptoms include fever, seizures, irregular heartbeat, delirium, and coma. If signs or symptoms arise, discontinue treatment with serotonergic agents immediately. It is recommended to washout 4 to 5 half-lives of the serotonergic agent before using an MAO inhibitor.

Bleeding

Some studies suggest there are risks of upper gastrointestinal bleeding, especially venlafaxine, due to impairment of platelet aggregation and depletion of platelet serotonin levels. Similarly to SSRIs, SNRIs may interact with anticoagulants, like warfarin. Currently, there is more evidence of SSRIs having higher risk of bleeding than SNRIs. Studies have suggested caution when using SNRIs or SSRIs with high doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen due to an increased risk of upper GI bleeding.

Precautions

Starting an SNRI Regimen

Due to the extreme changes in noradrenergic activity produced from norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake inhibition, patients that are just starting an SNRI regimen are usually given lower doses than their expected final dosing to allow the body to acclimate to the drug’s effects. As the patient continues along at low doses without any side-effects, the dose is incrementally increased until the patient sees improvement in symptoms without detrimental side-effects.

Discontinuation Syndrome

As with SSRIs, the abrupt discontinuation of an SNRI usually leads to withdrawal, or “discontinuation syndrome“, which could include states of anxiety and other symptoms. Therefore, it is recommended that users seeking to discontinue an SNRI slowly taper the dose under the supervision of a professional. Discontinuation syndrome has been reported to be markedly worse for venlafaxine when compared to other SNRIs. As such, as tramadol is related to venlafaxine, the same conditions apply. This is likely due to venlafaxine’s relatively short half-life and therefore rapid clearance upon discontinuation. In some cases, switching from venlafaxine to fluoxetine, a long-acting SSRI, and then tapering off fluoxetine, may be recommended to reduce discontinuation symptoms. Signs and symptoms of withdrawal from abrupt cessation of an SNRI include dizziness, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, sweating, and flu-like symptoms, such as lethargy and malaise.

Overdose

Causes

Overdosing on SNRIs can be caused by either drug combinations or excessive amounts of the drug itself. Venlafaxine is marginally more toxic in overdose than duloxetine or the SSRIs. Risk of overdose is increased in patients taking multiple serotonergic agents or interacting agents.

Symptoms

Symptoms of SNRI overdose, whether it be a mixed drug interaction or the drug alone, vary in intensity and incidence based on the amount of medicine taken and the individuals sensitivity to SNRI treatment. Possible symptoms may include:

  • Somnolence.
  • Coma.
  • Serotonin syndrome.
  • Seizures.
  • Syncope.
  • Tachycardia.
  • Hypotension.
  • Hypertension.
  • Hyperthermia.
  • Vomiting.

Management

Overdose is usually treated symptomatically, especially in the case of serotonin syndrome, which requires treatment with cyproheptadine and temperature control based on the progression of the serotonin toxicity. Patients are often monitored for vitals and airways cleared to ensure that they are receiving adequate levels of oxygen. Another option is to use activated carbon in the GI tract in order to absorb excess neurotransmitter. It is important to consider drug interactions when dealing with overdose patients, as separate symptoms can arise.

Comparison to SSRIs

Because SNRIs were developed more recently than SSRIs, there are relatively few of them. However, the SNRIs are among the most widely used antidepressants today. In 2009, Cymbalta and Effexor were the 11th- and 12th-most-prescribed branded drugs in the United States, respectively. This translates to the 2nd- and 3rd-most-common antidepressants, behind Lexapro (escitalopram), an SSRI. In some studies, SNRIs demonstrated slightly higher antidepressant efficacy than the SSRIs (response rates 63.6% versus 59.3%). However, in one study escitalopram had a superior efficacy profile to venlafaxine.

Special Populations

Pregnancy

Currently, no antidepressants are FDA approved during pregnancy. All SSRIs and SNRIs are Category C, except paroxetine, which is Category D since it has shown association with congenital heart disorders. Use of antidepressants during pregnancy may result in foetus abnormalities affecting functional development of the brain and behaviour. Untreated depression may also affect birth outcomes, so it is recommended to discuss options with a provider to weigh the risks and benefits.

Paediatrics

SSRIs and SNRIs have been shown to be effective in treating major depressive disorder and anxiety in paediatric populations. However, there is a risk of increased suicidality in paediatric populations for treatment of major depressive disorder, especially with venlafaxine. Fluoxetine is the only antidepressant that is approved for child/adolescent major depressive disorder.

Geriatrics

Most antidepressants, including SNRIs, are safe and effective in the geriatric population. Decisions are often based on co-morbid conditions, drug interactions, and patient tolerance. Due to differences in body composition and metabolism, starting doses are often half that of the recommended dose for younger adults.

What is Tricyclic Antidepressant Overdose?

Introduction

Tricyclic antidepressant overdose is poisoning caused by excessive medication of the tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) type.

Symptoms may include elevated body temperature, blurred vision, dilated pupils, sleepiness, confusion, seizures, rapid heart rate, and cardiac arrest. If symptoms have not occurred within six hours of exposure they are unlikely to occur.

TCA overdose may occur by accident or purposefully in an attempt to cause death. The toxic dose depends on the specific TCA. Most are non-toxic at less than 5 mg/kg except for desipramine, nortriptyline, and trimipramine, which are generally non-toxic at less than 2.5 mg/kg. In small children one or two pills can be fatal. An electrocardiogram (ECG) should be included in the assessment when there is concern of an overdose.

In overdose activated charcoal is often recommended. People should not be forced to vomit. In those who have a wide QRS complex (> 100 ms) sodium bicarbonate is recommended. If seizures occur benzodiazepines should be given. In those with low blood pressure intravenous fluids and norepinephrine may be used. The use of intravenous lipid emulsion may also be tried.

In the early 2000s TCAs were one of the most common cause of poisoning. In the United States in 2004 there was more than 12,000 cases. In the United Kingdom they resulted in about 270 deaths a year. An overdose from TCAs was first reported in 1959.

Signs and Symptoms

The peripheral autonomic nervous system, central nervous system and the heart are the main systems that are affected following overdose. Initial or mild symptoms typically develop within 2 hours and include tachycardia, drowsiness, a dry mouth, nausea and vomiting, urinary retention, confusion, agitation, and headache. More severe complications include hypotension, cardiac rhythm disturbances, hallucinations, and seizures. Electrocardiogram (ECG) abnormalities are frequent and a wide variety of cardiac dysrhythmias can occur, the most common being sinus tachycardia and intraventricular conduction delay resulting in prolongation of the QRS complex and the PR/QT intervals. Seizures, cardiac dysrhythmias, and apnoea are the most important life-threatening complications.

Cause

Tricyclics have a narrow therapeutic index, i.e. the therapeutic dose is close to the toxic dose. Factors that increase the risk of toxicity include advancing age, cardiac status, and concomitant use of other drugs. However, serum drug levels are not useful for evaluating risk of arrhythmia or seizure in tricyclic overdose.

Pathophysiology

Most of the toxic effects of TCAs are caused by four major pharmacological effects. TCAs have anticholinergic effects, cause excessive blockade of norepinephrine reuptake at the preganglionic synapse, direct alpha adrenergic blockade, and importantly they block sodium membrane channels with slowing of membrane depolarization, thus having quinidine-like effects on the myocardium.

Diagnosis

A specific blood test to verify toxicity is not typically available. An electrocardiogram (ECG) should be included in the assessment when there is concern of an overdose.

Treatment

People with symptoms are usually monitored in an intensive care unit for a minimum of 12 hours, with close attention paid to maintenance of the airways, along with monitoring of blood pressure, arterial pH, and continuous ECG monitoring. Supportive therapy is given if necessary, including respiratory assistance and maintenance of body temperature. Once a person has had a normal ECG for more than 24 hours they are generally medically clear.

Decontamination

Initial treatment of an acute overdose includes gastric decontamination. This is achieved by giving activated charcoal, which adsorbs the drug in the gastrointestinal tract either by mouth or via a nasogastric tube. Activated charcoal is most useful if given within 1 to 2 hours of ingestion. Other decontamination methods such as stomach pumps, ipecac induced emesis, or whole bowel irrigation are generally not recommended in TCA poisoning. Stomach pumps may be considered within an hour of ingestion but evidence to support the practice is poor.

Medication

Administration of intravenous sodium bicarbonate as an antidote has been shown to be an effective treatment for resolving the metabolic acidosis and cardiovascular complications of TCA poisoning. If sodium bicarbonate therapy fails to improve cardiac symptoms, conventional antidysrhythmic drugs or magnesium can be used to reverse any cardiac abnormalities. However, no benefit has been shown from Class 1 antiarrhythmic drugs; it appears they worsen the sodium channel blockade, slow conduction velocity, and depress contractility and should be avoided in TCA poisoning. Low blood pressure is initially treated with fluids along with bicarbonate to reverse metabolic acidosis (if present), if the blood pressure remains low despite fluids then further measures such as the administration of epinephrine, norepinephrine, or dopamine can be used to increase blood pressure.

Another potentially severe symptom is seizures: Seizures often resolve without treatment but administration of a benzodiazepine or other anticonvulsive may be required for persistent muscular overactivity. There is no role for physostigmine in the treatment of tricyclic toxicity as it may increase cardiac toxicity and cause seizures. In cases of severe TCA overdose that are refractory to conventional therapy, intravenous lipid emulsion therapy has been reported to improve signs and symptoms in moribund patients suffering from toxicities involving several types of lipophilic substances, therefore lipids may have a role in treating severe cases of refractory TCA overdose.

Dialysis

Tricyclic antidepressants are highly protein bound and have a large volume of distribution; therefore removal of these compounds from the blood with haemodialysis, hemoperfusion or other techniques are unlikely to be of any significant benefit.

Epidemiology

Studies in the 1990s in Australia and the United Kingdom showed that between 8 and 12% of drug overdoses were following TCA ingestion. TCAs may be involved in up to 33% of all fatal poisonings, second only to analgesics. Another study reported 95% of deaths from antidepressants in England and Wales between 1993 and 1997 were associated with tricyclic antidepressants, particularly dothiepin and amitriptyline. It was determined there were 5.3 deaths per 100,000 prescriptions. Sodium channel blockers such as Dilantin should not be used in the treatment of TCA overdose as the Na+ blockade will increase the QTI.

What is Desipramine

Introduction

Desipramine, sold under the brand name Norpramin among others, is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) used in the treatment of depression.

It acts as a relatively selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), though it does also have other activities such as weak serotonin reuptake inhibitory, α1-blocking, antihistamine, and anticholinergic effects. The drug is not considered a first-line treatment for depression since the introduction of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, which have fewer side effects and are safer in overdose.

Refer to Demexiptiline and Depramine (not to be confused with).

Brief History

Desipramine was developed by Geigy. It first appeared in the literature in 1959 and was patented in 1962. The drug was first introduced for the treatment of depression in 1963 or 1964.

Medical Uses

Desipramine is primarily used for the treatment of depression. It may also be useful to treat symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Evidence of benefit is only in the short term, and with concerns of side effects its overall usefulness is not clear. Desipramine at very low doses is also used to help reduce the pain associated with functional dyspepsia. It has also been tried, albeit with little evidence of effectiveness, in the treatment of cocaine dependence. Evidence for usefulness in neuropathic pain is also poor.

Side Effects

Desipramine tends to be less sedating than other TCAs and tends to produce fewer anticholinergic effects such as dry mouth, constipation, urinary retention, blurred vision, and cognitive or memory impairments.

Overdose

Refer to Tricyclic Antidepressant Overdose.

Desipramine is particularly toxic in cases of overdose, compared to other antidepressants. Any overdose or suspected overdose of desipramine is considered to be a medical emergency and can result in death without prompt medical intervention.

Pharmacology

Pharmacodynamics

Desipramine is a very potent and relatively selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (NRI), which is thought to enhance noradrenergic neurotransmission Based on one study, it has the highest affinity for the norepinephrine transporter (NET) of any other TCA, and is said to be the most noradrenergic and the most selective for the NET of the TCAs. The observed effectiveness of desipramine in the treatment of ADHD was the basis for the development of the selective NRI atomoxetine and its use in ADHD.

Desipramine has the weakest antihistamine and anticholinergic effects of the TCAs. It tends to be slightly activating/stimulating rather than sedating, unlike most others TCAs. Whereas other TCAs are useful for treating insomnia, desipramine can cause insomnia as a side effect due to its activating properties. The drug is also not associated with weight gain, in contrast to many other TCAs. Secondary amine TCAs like desipramine and nortriptyline have a lower risk of orthostatic hypotension than other TCAs, although desipramine can still cause moderate orthostatic hypotension.

Pharmacokinetics

Desipramine is the major metabolite of imipramine and lofepramine.

Chemistry

Desipramine is a tricyclic compound, specifically a dibenzazepine, and possesses three rings fused together with a side chain attached in its chemical structure. Other dibenzazepine TCAs include imipramine (N-methyldesipramine), clomipramine, trimipramine, and lofepramine (N-(4-chlorobenzoylmethyl)desipramine). Desipramine is a secondary amine TCA, with its N-methylated parent imipramine being a tertiary amine. Other secondary amine TCAs include nortriptyline and protriptyline. The chemical name of desipramine is 3-(10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[b,f]azepin-5-yl)-N-methylpropan-1-amine and its free base form has a chemical formula of C18H22N2 with a molecular weight of 266.381 g/mol. The drug is used commercially mostly as the hydrochloride salt; the dibudinate salt is or has been used for intramuscular injection in Argentina (brand name Nebril) and the free base form is not used. The CAS Registry Number of the free base is 50-47-5, of the hydrochloride is 58-28-6, and of the dibudinate is 62265-06-9.

Society and Culture

Generic Names

Desipramine is the generic name of the drug and its INN and BAN, while desipramine hydrochloride is its USAN, USP, BAN, and JAN. Its generic name in French and its DCF are désipramine, in Spanish and Italian and its DCIT are desipramina, in German is desipramin, and in Latin is desipraminum.

Brand Names

Desipramine is or has been marketed throughout the world under a variety of brand names, including Irene, Nebril, Norpramin, Pertofran, Pertofrane, Pertrofran, and Petylyl among others.

What is the Management of Depression?

Introduction

Depression is a symptom of some physical diseases; a side effect of some drugs and medical treatments; and a symptom of some mood disorders such as major depressive disorder or dysthymia. Physical causes are ruled out with a clinical assessment of depression that measures vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and hormones. Management of depression may involve a number of different therapies: medications, behaviour therapy, psychotherapy, and medical devices.

Though psychiatric medication is the most frequently prescribed therapy for major depression, psychotherapy may be effective, either alone or in combination with medication. Combining psychotherapy and antidepressants may provide a “slight advantage”, but antidepressants alone or psychotherapy alone are not significantly different from other treatments, or “active intervention controls”. Given an accurate diagnosis of major depressive disorder, in general the type of treatment (psychotherapy and/or antidepressants, alternate or other treatments, or active intervention) is “less important than getting depressed patients involved in an active therapeutic program.”

Psychotherapy is the treatment of choice in those under the age of 18, with medication offered only in conjunction with the former and generally not as a first line agent. The possibility of depression, substance misuse or other mental health problems in the parents should be considered and, if present and if it may help the child, the parent should be treated in parallel with the child.

Psychotherapy and Behaviour Therapy

There are a number of different psychotherapies for depression which are provided to individuals or groups by psychotherapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, counsellors or psychiatric nurses. With more chronic forms of depression, the most effective treatment is often considered to be a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is the treatment of choice in people under 18. A meta-analysis examined the effectiveness of psychotherapy for depression across ages from younger than 13 years to older than 75 years. It summarizes results from 366 trials included 36,702 patients. It found that the best results were for young adults, with an average effect size of g=.98 (95% CI, 0.79-1.16). The effects were smallest for young children (<13 years), g = .35 (95% CI, 0.15-0.55), and second largest in the oldest group, g = .97 (95% CI, 0.42-1.52). The study was not able to compare the different types of therapy to each other. Most of the studies with children used therapies originally developed with adults, which may have reduced the effectiveness. The greater benefits with young adults might be due to a large number of studies including college students, who might have an easier time learning therapy skills and techniques. Most of the studies in children were done in the USA, whereas in older age groups, more balanced numbers of studies came from Europe and other parts of the world as well.

As the most studied form of psychotherapy for depression, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is thought to work by teaching clients to learn a set of cognitive and behavioural skills, which they can employ on their own. Earlier research suggested that cognitive behavioural therapy was not as effective as antidepressant medication in the treatment of depression; however, more recent research suggests that it can perform as well as antidepressants in treating patients with moderate to severe depression. Beck’s treatment manual, Cognitive therapy of depression, has undergone the most research and accumulated the most evidence for its use. However, a number of other CBT manuals also have evidence to support their effectiveness with depression.

The effect of psychotherapy on patient and clinician rated improvement as well as on revision rates have declined steadily from the 1970s.

A systematic review of data comparing low-intensity CBT (such as guided self-help by means of written materials and limited professional support, and website-based interventions) with usual care found that patients who initially had more severe depression benefited from low-intensity interventions at least as much as less-depressed patients.

For the treatment of adolescent depression, one published study found that CBT without medication performed no better than a placebo, and significantly worse than the antidepressant fluoxetine. However, the same article reported that CBT and fluoxetine outperformed treatment with only fluoxetine. Combining fluoxetine with CBT appeared to bring no additional benefit in two different studies or, at the most, only marginal benefit, in a fourth study.

Behaviour therapy for depression is sometimes referred to as behavioural activation. Studies exist showing behavioural activation to be superior to CBT. In addition, behavioural activation appears to take less time and lead to longer lasting change. Two well-researched treatment manuals include Social skills training for depression and Behavioural activation treatment for depression.

Emotionally focused therapy, founded by Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg in 1985, treats depression by identifying and processing underlying emotions. The treatment manual, Facilitating emotional change, outlines treatment techniques.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), a mindfulness form of CBT, which has its roots in behaviour analysis, also demonstrates that it is effective in treating depression, and can be more helpful than traditional CBT, especially where depression is accompanied by anxiety and where it is resistant to traditional CBT.

A review of four studies on the effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), a recently developed class-based program designed to prevent relapse, suggests that MBCT may have an additive effect when provided with the usual care in patients who have had three or more depressive episodes, although the usual care did not include antidepressant treatment or any psychotherapy, and the improvement observed may have reflected non-specific or placebo effects. Of note, although Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression prevented relapse of future depressive episodes, there is no research on whether it can cause the remission of a current depressive episode.

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) focuses on the social and interpersonal triggers that may cause depression. There is evidence that it is an effective treatment for depression. Here, the therapy takes a fairly structured course (often 12 sessions, as in the original research versions) as in the case with CBT; however, the focus is on relationships with others. Unlike family therapy, IPT is an individual format, so it is possible to work on interpersonal themes even if other family members do not come to the session. Therapy can be used to help a person develop or improve interpersonal skills in order to allow him or her to communicate more effectively and reduce stress. In a meta-analysis of 16 studies and 4,356 patients, the average improvement in depressive symptoms was an effect size of d = 0.63 (95% CI, 0.36 to 0.90). IPT combined with pharmacotherapy was more effective in preventing relapse than pharmacotherapy alone, number needed to treat = 7.63.

Psychoanalysis, a school of thought founded by Sigmund Freud that emphasizes the resolution of unconscious mental conflicts, is used by its practitioners to treat clients presenting with major depression. A more widely practiced technique, called psychodynamic psychotherapy, is loosely based on psychoanalysis and has an additional social and interpersonal focus. In a meta-analysis of three controlled trials, psychodynamic psychotherapy was found to be as effective as medication for mild to moderate depression.

Shared Care

Shared decision making is an approach whereby patients and clinicians freely share important evidence when tasked with decision making and where patients are guided to consider the best available options to make an informed decision. The principles are well documented, but there is a gap in that it’s hard to apply them in routine clinical practice. The steps have been simplified into five steps. The first step is seeking patient participation in that the health practitioner is tasked with communicating existing choices and therefore inviting them to the decision making process. The next step involves assisting the patient to explore and compare the treatment options by a critical analysis of the risks and benefits. The third step involves the assessment of the patient’s values and what they prefer taking to account what is of paramount urgency to the patient. Step 4 involves decision making where the patient and the practitioner make a conclusive decision on the best option and arrange for subsequent follow up meetings. Finally, the fifth step involves the analysis of the patient’s decision’. Five steps for you and your patients to work together to make the best possible health care decisions. The step involves monitoring of the degree of implementation, overcoming of barriers of decision implantation consequently the decisions need to be revisited and optimised thus ensuring the decision has a positive impact on health outcomes its success relies on the ability of the health practitioner to create a good interpersonal relationship with the patient.

Depression still remains a major problem in the US whereby statistics have it that 16 million people were affected in the year 2017. The depression is multifactorial and has been on the increase due to societal pressure, genetic association and increase in use of drugs. incorporation of nursing in management of depression may seem important in that nursing holds a pivotal role in health care delivery where they are the health practitioners that have been trained to be versatile from clinical to psychological care. Their incorporation in shared decision making in treating depression may be important as nurses are known to have the best interpersonal relationship with the patients thus a better collaborative model can be achieved due to this fact. With this in mind, the nurses may serve to administer drugs in management, prepare and maintain the patient’s records, interaction with other care staff to achieve optimum care, and organising therapy sessions. In a study another study concerning shared decision-making interventions for people with mental health conditions there were no overt benefits that were discovered and the called for further research in this area. Another study found that it is important to begin the dissemination and implementation of SDM as they proved that it has benefits in healthcare especially in mental health care and has received social and government support and however transitioning to SDM has proven to be an uphill task. It has been suggested that SDM is of importance in demonstrating patient preferences in decision making when there is no clear approach to treatment. In addition, numerous tools can be used to make the decision making the process easier these include the Controlled Preferences Scale that informs clinicians on how to actively involve patients

Commentators suggest that providers need to embrace shared decision making by making sure that patients participate actively in their management thus enabling the success of the model.

Medication

To find the most effective pharmaceutical drug treatment, the dosages of medications must often be adjusted, different combinations of antidepressants tried, or antidepressants changed. Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (NRIs) can be used as antidepressants. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as sertraline (Zoloft, Lustral), escitalopram (Lexapro, Cipralex), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Seroxat), and citalopram, are the primary medications considered, due to their relatively mild side effects and broad effect on the symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as reduced risk in overdose, compared to their older tricyclic alternatives. Those who do not respond to the first SSRI tried can be switched to another. If sexual dysfunction is present prior to the onset of depression, SSRIs should be avoided. Another popular option is to switch to the atypical antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin) or to add bupropion to the existing therapy; this strategy is possibly more effective. It is not uncommon for SSRIs to cause or worsen insomnia; the sedating noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressant (NaSSA) antidepressant mirtazapine (Zispin, Remeron) can be used in such cases. CBT for Insomnia can also help to alleviate the insomnia without additional medication. Venlafaxine (Effexor) from the SNRI class may be moderately more effective than SSRIs; however, it is not recommended as a first-line treatment because of the higher rate of side effects, and its use is specifically discouraged in children and adolescents. Fluoxetine is the only antidepressant recommended for people under the age of 18, though, if a child or adolescent patient is intolerant to fluoxetine, another SSRI may be considered. Evidence of effectiveness of SSRIs in those with depression complicated by dementia is lacking.

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) have more side effects than SSRIs (but less sexual dysfunctions) and are usually reserved for the treatment of inpatients, for whom the tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline, in particular, appears to be more effective. A different class of antidepressants, the monoamine oxidase inhibitors, have historically been plagued by questionable efficacy (although early studies used dosages now considered too low) and life-threatening adverse effects. They are still used only rarely, although newer agents of this class (RIMA), with a better side effect profile, have been developed.

In older patients TCAs and SSRIs are of the same efficacy. However, there are differences between TCA related antidepressants and classical TCAs in terms of side effect profiles and withdrawal when compared to SSRIs.

There is evidence a prominent side-effect of antidepressants, emotional blunting, is confused with a symptom of depression itself. The cited study, according to Professor Linda Gask was: ‘funded by a pharmaceutical company (Servier) and two of its authors are employees of that company’, which may bias the results. The study authors’ note: “emotional blunting is reported by nearly half of depressed patients on antidepressants and that it appears to be common to all monoaminergic antidepressants not only SSRIs”. Additionally, they note: “The OQuESA scores are highly correlated with the HAD depression score; emotional blunting cannot be described simply as a side-effect of antidepressant, but also as a symptom of depression…More emotional blunting is associated with a poorer quality of remission…”

Acetyl-l-Carnitine

Acetylcarnitine levels were lower in depressed patients than controls and in rats it causes rapid antidepressant effects through epigenetic mechanisms. A systematic review and meta-analysis of 12 randomised controlled trials found “supplementation significantly decreases depressive symptoms compared with placebo/no intervention, while offering a comparable effect with that of established antidepressant agents with fewer adverse effects.”

Zinc

A 2012 cross-sectional study found an association between zinc deficiency and depressive symptoms among women, but not men, and a 2013 meta-analysis of 17 observational studies found that blood zinc concentrations were lower in depressed subjects than in control subjects. A 2012 meta-analysis found that zinc supplementation as an adjunct to antidepressant drug treatment significantly lowered depressive symptom scores of depressed patients. The potential mechanisms underlying the association between low serum zinc and depression remain unclear, but may involve the regulation of neurotransmitter, endocrine and neurogenesis pathways. Zinc supplementation has been reported to improve symptoms of ADHD and depression. A 2013 review found that zinc supplementation may be an effective treatment in major depression.

Magnesium

Many studies have found an association between magnesium intake and depression. Magnesium was lower in serum of depressed patients than controls. One trial found magnesium chloride to be effective for depression in seniors with type 2 diabetes while another trial found magnesium citrate decreased depression in patients with fibromyalgia. One negative trial used magnesium oxide, which is poorly absorbed. A randomised, open-label study found that consumption of magnesium chloride for 6 weeks resulted in a clinically significant net improvement in depression, and that effects were observed within 2 weeks.

Augmentation

Physicians often add a medication with a different mode of action to bolster the effect of an antidepressant in cases of treatment resistance; a 2002 large community study of 244,859 depressed Veterans Administration patients found that 22% had received a second agent, most commonly a second antidepressant. Lithium has been used to augment antidepressant therapy in those who have failed to respond to antidepressants alone. Furthermore, lithium dramatically decreases the suicide risk in recurrent depression. Addition of atypical antipsychotics when the patient has not responded to an antidepressant is also known to increase the effectiveness of antidepressant drugs, albeit at the cost of more frequent and potentially serious side effects. There is some evidence for the addition of a thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine, in patients with normal thyroid function. Stephen M. Stahl, renowned academician in psychopharmacology, has stated resorting to a dynamic psychostimulant, in particular, d-amphetamine is the “classical augmentation strategy for treatment-refractory depression”. However, the use of stimulants in cases of treatment-resistant depression is relatively controversial.

Efficacy of Medication and Psychotherapy

Antidepressants are statistically superior to placebo but their overall effect is low-to-moderate. In that respect they often did not exceed the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) criteria for a “clinically significant” effect. In particular, the effect size was very small for moderate depression but increased with severity, reaching “clinical significance” for very severe depression. These results were consistent with the earlier clinical studies in which only patients with severe depression benefited from either psychotherapy or treatment with an antidepressant, imipramine, more than from the placebo treatment. Despite obtaining similar results, the authors argued about their interpretation. One author concluded that there “seems little evidence to support the prescription of antidepressant medication to any but the most severely depressed patients, unless alternative treatments have failed to provide benefit.” The other author agreed that “antidepressant ‘glass’ is far from full” but disagreed “that it is completely empty”. He pointed out that the first-line alternative to medication is psychotherapy, which does not have superior efficacy.

Antidepressants in general are as effective as psychotherapy for major depression, and this conclusion holds true for both severe and mild forms of MDD. In contrast, medication gives better results for dysthymia. The subgroup of SSRIs may be slightly more efficacious than psychotherapy. On the other hand, significantly more patients drop off from the antidepressant treatment than from psychotherapy, likely because of the side effects of antidepressants. Successful psychotherapy appears to prevent the recurrence of depression even after it has been terminated or replaced by occasional “booster” sessions. The same degree of prevention can be achieved by continuing antidepressant treatment.

Two studies suggest that the combination of psychotherapy and medication is the most effective way to treat depression in adolescents. Both TADS (Treatment of Adolescents with Depression Study) and TORDIA (Treatment of Resistant Depression in Adolescents) showed very similar results. TADS resulted in 71% of their teen subjects having “much” or “very much” improvement in mood over the 61% with medication alone and 43% with CBT alone. Similarly, TORDIA showed a 55% improvement with CBT and drugs versus a 41% with drug therapy alone. However, a more recent meta-analysis of 34 trials of 14 drugs used with children and adolescents found that only fluoxetine produced significant benefit compared to placebo, with a medium sized effect (standardize mean difference = .5).

Treatment Resistance

The risk factors for treatment resistant depression are: the duration of the episode of depression, severity of the episode, if bipolar, lack of improvement in symptoms within the first couple of treatment weeks, anxious or avoidant and borderline comorbidity and old age. Treatment resistant depression is best handled with a combination of conventional antidepressant together with atypical antipsychotics. Another approach is to try different antidepressants. It is inconclusive which approach is superior. Treatment resistant depression can be misdiagnosed if subtherapeutic doses of antidepressants is the case, patient nonadherence, intolerable adverse effects or their thyroid disease or other conditions is misdiagnosed as depression.

Experimental Treatments

Chromium

Clinical and experimental studies have reported antidepressant activity of chromium particularly in atypical depression, characterised by increased appetite and carbohydrate craving.

Essential Fatty Acids

A 2015 Cochrane Collaboration review found insufficient evidence with which to determine if omega-3 fatty acid has any effect on depression. A 2016 review found that if trials with formulations containing mostly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are separated from trials using formulations containing docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), it appeared that EPA may have an effect while DHA may not, but there was insufficient evidence to be sure.

Creatine

The amino acid creatine, commonly used as a supplement to improve the performance of bodybuilders, has been studied for its potential antidepressant properties. A double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial focusing on women with major depressive disorder found that daily creatine supplementation adjunctive to escitalopram was more effective than escitalopram alone. Studies on mice have found that the antidepressant effects of creatine can be blocked by drugs that act against dopamine receptors, suggesting that the drug acts on dopamine pathways.

Dopamine Receptor Agonist

Some research suggests dopamine receptor agonist may be effective in treating depression, however studies are few and results are preliminary.

Inositol

Inositol, an alcohol sugar found in fruits, beans grains and nuts may have antidepressant effects in high doses. Inositol may exert its effects by altering intracellular signalling.

Ketamine

Research on the antidepressant effects of ketamine infusions at subanaesthetic doses has consistently shown rapid (4 to 72 hours) responses from single doses, with substantial improvement in mood in the majority of patients and remission in some. However, these effects are often short-lived, and attempts to prolong the antidepressant effect with repeated doses and extended (“maintenance”) treatment have resulted in only modest success.

N-Acetylcysteine

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 5 studies found that N-Acetylcysteine reduces depressive symptoms more than placebo and has good tolerability. N-Acetylecysteine may exert benefits as a precursor to the antioxidant glutathione, thus modulating glutamatergic, neurotropic, and inflammatory pathways.

St John’s Wort

A 2008 Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis concluded that:

“The available evidence suggests that the hypericum extracts tested in the included trials a) are superior to placebo in patients with major depression; b) are similarly effective as standard antidepressants; c) and have fewer side effects than standard antidepressants. The association of country of origin and precision with effects sizes complicates the interpretation.”

The United States National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health advice is that “St. John’s wort may help some types of depression, similar to treatment with standard prescription antidepressants, but the evidence is not definitive.” and warns that “Combining St. John’s wort with certain antidepressants can lead to a potentially life-threatening increase of serotonin, a brain chemical targeted by antidepressants. St. John’s wort can also limit the effectiveness of many prescription medicines.”

Rhodiola Rosea

A 2011 review reported Rhodiola rosea “is an adaptogen plant that can be especially helpful in treating asthenic or lethargic depression, and may be combined with conventional antidepressants to alleviate some of their common side effects.” A 6 week double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised study with 89 patients with mild to moderate depression found that R. rosea statistically significantly reduced depression symptoms, and no side effects were reported.

Saffron

A 2013 meta-analysis found that saffron supplementation significantly reduced depression symptoms compared to placebo, and both saffron supplementation and the antidepressant groups were similarly effective in reducing depression symptoms. A 2015 meta-analysis supported the “efficacy of saffron as compared to placebo in improving the following conditions: depressive symptoms (compared to anti-depressants and placebo), premenstrual symptoms, and sexual dysfunction. In addition, saffron use was also effective in reducing excessive snacking behavior.” The antidepressant effect of saffron stigma extracts may be mediated via its components safranal and crocin: “crocin may act via the uptake inhibition of dopamine and norepinephrine, and safranal via serotonin.” Therapeutic doses of saffron exhibits no significant toxicity in both clinical and experimental investigations.

SAMe

S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe) is available as a prescription antidepressant in Europe and an over-the-counter dietary supplement in the US. Evidence from 16 clinical trials with a small number of subjects, reviewed in 1994 and 1996 suggested it to be more effective than placebo and as effective as standard antidepressant medication for the treatment of major depression.

Tryptophan and 5-HTP

The amino acid tryptophan is converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) which is subsequently converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Since serotonin deficiency has been recognized as a possible cause of depression, it has been suggested that consumption of tryptophan or 5-HTP may therefore improve depression symptoms by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain. 5-HTP and tryptophan are sold over the counter in North America, but requires a prescription in Europe. The use of 5-HTP instead of tryptophan bypasses the conversion of tryptophan into 5-HTP by the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase, which is the rate-limiting step in the synthesis of serotonin, and 5-HTP easily crosses the blood–brain barrier unlike tryptophan, which requires a transporter.

Small studies have been performed using 5-HTP and tryptophan as adjunctive therapy in addition to standard treatment for depression. While some studies had positive results, they were criticised for having methodological flaws, and a more recent study did not find sustained benefit from their use. The safety of these medications has not been well studied. Due to the lack of high quality studies, preliminary nature of studies showing effectiveness, the lack of adequate study on their safety, and reports of Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome from contaminated tryptophan in 1989 and 1990, the use of tryptophan and 5-HTP is not highly recommended or thought to be clinically useful.

Medical Devices

A variety of medical devices are in use or under consideration for treatment of depression including devices that offer electroconvulsive therapy, vagus nerve stimulation, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, and cranial electrotherapy stimulation. The use of such devices in the United States requires approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after field trials. In 2010 an FDA advisory panel considered the question of how such field trials should be managed. Factors considered were whether drugs had been effective, how many different drugs had been tried, and what tolerance for suicides should be in field trials.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a standard psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in patients to provide relief from psychiatric illnesses. ECT is used with informed consent as a last line of intervention for major depressive disorder. Among the elderly, who often experience depression, the efficacy of ECT is difficult to determine due to the lack of trials comparing ECT to other treatments.

A round of ECT is effective for about 50% of people with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, whether it is unipolar or bipolar. Follow-up treatment is still poorly studied, but about half of people who respond, relapse with twelve months.

Aside from effects in the brain, the general physical risks of ECT are similar to those of brief general anaesthesia. Immediately following treatment, the most common adverse effects are confusion and memory loss. ECT is considered one of the least harmful treatment options available for severely depressed pregnant women.

A usual course of ECT involves multiple administrations, typically given two or three times per week until the patient is no longer suffering symptoms ECT is administered under anaesthetic with a muscle relaxant. Electroconvulsive therapy can differ in its application in three ways: electrode placement, frequency of treatments, and the electrical waveform of the stimulus. These three forms of application have significant differences in both adverse side effects and symptom remission. After treatment, drug therapy is usually continued, and some patients receive maintenance ECT.

ECT appears to work in the short term via an anticonvulsant effect mostly in the frontal lobes, and longer term via neurotrophic effects primarily in the medial temporal lobe.

Deep Brain Stimulation

The support for the use of deep brain stimulation in treatment-resistant depression comes from a handful of case studies, and this treatment is still in a very early investigational stage. In this technique electrodes are implanted in a specific region of the brain, which is then continuously stimulated. A March 2010 systematic review found that “about half the patients did show dramatic improvement” and that adverse events were “generally trivial” given the younger psychiatric patient population than with movements disorders. Deep brain stimulation is available on an experimental basis only in the United States; no systems are approved by the FDA for this use. It is available in Australia.

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or deep transcranial magnetic stimulation is a non-invasive method used to stimulate small regions of the brain. During a TMS procedure, a magnetic field generator, or “coil” is placed near the head of the person receiving the treatment. The coil produces small electric currents in the region of the brain just under the coil via electromagnetic induction. The coil is connected to a pulse generator, or stimulator, that delivers electric current to the coil.

TMS was approved by the FDA for treatment-resistant major depressive disorder in 2008 and as of 2014 clinical evidence supports this use. The American Psychiatric Association, the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Disorders, and the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists have endorsed rTMS for trMDD.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) uses an implanted electrode and generator to deliver electrical pulses to the vagus nerve, one of the primary nerves emanating from the brain. It is an approved therapy for treatment-resistant depression in the EU and US and is sometimes used as an adjunct to existing antidepressant treatment. The support for this method comes mainly from open-label trials, which indicate that several months may be required to see a benefit. The only large double-blind trial conducted lasted only 10 weeks and yielded inconclusive results; VNS failed to show superiority over a sham treatment on the primary efficacy outcome, but the results were more favourable for one of the secondary outcomes. The authors concluded “This study did not yield definitive evidence of short-term efficacy for adjunctive VNS in treatment-resistant depression.”

Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation

A 2014 Cochrane review found insufficient evidence to determine whether or not Cranial electrotherapy stimulation with alternating current is safe and effective for treating depression.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

A 2016 meta-analysis of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) reported some efficacy of tDCS in the treatment of acute depressive disorder with moderate effect size, and low efficacy in treatment-resistant depression, and that use of 2 mA current strength over 20 minutes per day over a short time span can be considered safe.

Other Treatments

Bright Light Therapy

A meta-analysis of bright light therapy commissioned by the American Psychiatric Association found a significant reduction in depression symptom severity associated with bright light treatment. Benefit was found for both seasonal affective disorder and for non-seasonal depression, with effect sizes similar to those for conventional antidepressants. For non-seasonal depression, adding light therapy to the standard antidepressant treatment was not effective. A meta-analysis of light therapy for non-seasonal depression conducted by Cochrane Collaboration, studied a different set of trials, where light was used mostly in combination with antidepressants or wake therapy. A moderate statistically significant effect of light therapy was found, with response significantly better than control treatment in high-quality studies, in studies that applied morning light treatment, and with patients who respond to total or partial sleep deprivation. Both analyses noted poor quality of most studies and their small size, and urged caution in the interpretation of their results. The short 1-2 weeks duration of most trials makes it unclear whether the effect of light therapy could be sustained in the longer term.

Exercise

The 2013 Cochrane Collaboration review on physical exercise for depression noted that, based upon limited evidence, it is moderately more effective than a control intervention and comparable to psychological or antidepressant drug therapies. Smaller effects were seen in more methodologically rigorous studies. Three subsequent 2014 systematic reviews that included the Cochrane review in their analysis concluded with similar findings: one indicated that physical exercise is effective as an adjunct treatment with antidepressant medication; the other two indicated that physical exercise has marked antidepressant effects and recommended the inclusion of physical activity as an adjunct treatment for mild-moderate depression and mental illness in general. These studies also found smaller effect sizes in more methodologically rigorous studies. All four systematic reviews called for more research in order to determine the efficacy or optimal exercise intensity, duration, and modality. The evidence for brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in mediating some of the neurobiological effects of physical exercise was noted in one review which hypothesized that increased BDNF signalling is responsible for the antidepressant effect.

Meditation

Mindfulness meditation programs may help improve symptoms of depression, but they are no better than active treatments such as medication, exercise, and other behavioural therapies.

Music Therapy

A 2009 review found that 3 to 10 sessions of music therapy resulted in a noticeable improvement in depressive symptoms, with still greater improvement after 16 to 51 sessions.

Sleep

Depression is sometimes associated with insomnia – (difficulty in falling asleep, early waking, or waking in the middle of the night). The combination of these two results, depression and insomnia, will only worsen the situation. Hence, good sleep hygiene is important to help break this vicious circle. It would include measures such as regular sleep routines, avoidance of stimulants such as caffeine and management of sleeping disorders such as sleep apnoea.

Smoking Cessation

Quitting smoking cigarettes is associated with reduced depression and anxiety, with the effect “equal or larger than” those of antidepressant treatments.

Total/Partial Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation (skipping a night’s sleep) has been found to improve symptoms of depression in 40-60% of patients. Partial sleep deprivation in the second half of the night may be as effective as an all night sleep deprivation session. Improvement may last for weeks, though the majority (50-80%) relapse after recovery sleep. Shifting or reduction of sleep time, light therapy, antidepressant drugs, and lithium have been found to potentially stabilise sleep deprivation treatment effects.

Shared Care

Shared care, when primary and specialty physicians have joint management of an individual’s health care, has been shown to alleviate depression outcomes.

What is Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome?

Introduction

Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, also known as antidepressant withdrawal syndrome, is a condition that can occur following the interruption, reduction, or discontinuation of antidepressant medication that was taken continuously for at least one month. The symptoms may include flu-like symptoms, trouble sleeping, nausea, poor balance, sensory changes, anxiety, and depression. The problem usually begins within three days and may last for several months. Rarely psychosis may occur.

A discontinuation syndrome can occur after stopping any antidepressant including selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). The risk is greater among those who have taken the medication for longer and when the medication in question has a short half-life. The underlying reason for its occurrence is unclear. The diagnosis is based on the symptoms.

Methods of prevention include gradually decreasing the dose among those who wish to stop, though it is possible for symptoms to occur with tapering. Treatment may include restarting the medication and slowly decreasing the dose. People may also be switched to the long acting antidepressant fluoxetine which can then be gradually decreased.

Approximately 20-50% of people who suddenly stop an antidepressant develop an antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. The condition is generally not serious, though about half of people with symptoms describe them as severe. Some restart antidepressants due to the severity of the symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

People with antidepressant discontinuation syndrome have been on an antidepressant for at least four weeks and have recently stopped taking the medication, whether abruptly, after a fast taper, or each time the medication is reduced on a slow taper. Commonly reported symptoms include flu-like symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, sweating) and sleep disturbances (insomnia, nightmares, constant sleepiness). Sensory and movement disturbances have also been reported, including imbalance, tremors, vertigo, dizziness, and electric-shock-like experiences in the brain, often described by people who have them as “brain zaps”. These “brain zaps” are often described as feeling like an unsettling shiver or shock sensation that starts in the head and moves quickly through the entire body. Mood disturbances such as dysphoria, anxiety, or agitation are also reported, as are cognitive disturbances such as confusion and hyperarousal.

In cases associated with sudden discontinuation of MAO inhibitors, acute psychosis has been observed. Over fifty symptoms have been reported.

A 2009 Advisory Committee to the FDA found that online anecdotal reports of discontinuation syndrome related to duloxetine included severe symptoms and exceeded prevalence of both paroxetine and venlafaxine reports by over 250% (although acknowledged this may have been influenced by duloxetine being a much newer drug). It also found that the safety information provided by the manufacturer not only neglected important information about managing discontinuation syndrome, but also explicitly advised against opening capsules, a practice required to gradually taper dosage.

Duration

Most cases of discontinuation syndrome may last between one and four weeks and resolve on their own. Occasionally symptoms can last up to one year. They typically resolve within a day of restoring the medication. Paroxetine and venlafaxine seem to be particularly difficult to discontinue, and prolonged withdrawal syndrome (post-acute-withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS) lasting over 18 months has been reported with paroxetine.

Mechanism

The underlying reason for its occurrence is unclear, though the syndrome appears similar to withdrawal from other psychotropic drugs such as benzodiazepines.

Prevention and Treatment

In some cases, withdrawal symptoms may be prevented by taking medication as directed, and when discontinuing, doing so gradually, although symptoms may appear while tapering. When discontinuing an antidepressant with a short half-life, switching to a drug with a longer half-life (e.g. fluoxetine or citalopram) and then tapering, and eventually discontinuing, from that drug can decrease the severity of symptoms in some cases.

Treatment is dependent on the severity of the discontinuation reaction and whether or not further antidepressant treatment is warranted. In cases where further antidepressant treatment is prescribed, then the only option suggested may be restarting the antidepressant. If antidepressants are no longer required, treatment depends on symptom severity. If symptoms of discontinuation are severe, or do not respond to symptom management, the antidepressant can be reinstated and then withdrawn more cautiously, or by switching to a drug with a longer half life, (such as Prozac), and then tapering and discontinuing that drug. In severe cases, hospitalisation may be required.

Pregnancy and Newborns

Antidepressants, including SSRIs, can cross the placenta and have the potential to affect the foetus and newborn, including an increased chance of miscarriage, presenting a dilemma for pregnant women to decide whether to continue to take antidepressants at all, or if they do, considering if tapering and discontinuing during pregnancy could have a protective effect for the newborn.

Postnatal adaptation syndrome (PNAS) (originally called “neonatal behavioural syndrome”, “poor neonatal adaptation syndrome”, or “neonatal withdrawal syndrome”) was first noticed in 1973 in newborns of mothers taking antidepressants; symptoms in the infant include irritability, rapid breathing, hypothermia, and blood sugar problems. The symptoms usually develop from birth to days after delivery and usually resolve within days or weeks of delivery.

Culture and History

Antidepressant discontinuation symptoms were first reported with imipramine, the first tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), in the late 1950s, and each new class of antidepressants has brought reports of similar conditions, including monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), SSRIs, and SNRIs. As of 2001, at least 21 different antidepressants, covering all the major classes, were known to cause discontinuation syndromes. The problem has been poorly studied, and most of the literature has been case reports or small clinical studies; incidence is hard to determine and controversial.

With the explosion of use and interest in SSRIs in the late 1980s and early 1990s, focused especially on Prozac, interest grew as well in discontinuation syndromes. Some of the symptoms emerged from discussion boards where people with depression discussed their experiences with the disease and their medications; “brain zaps” or “brain shivers” was one symptom that emerged via these websites.

Heightened media attention and continuing public concerns led to the formation of an expert group on the safety of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in England, to evaluate all the research available prior to 2004. The group determined that the incidence of discontinuation symptoms are between 5% and 49%, depending on the particular SSRI, the length of time on the medicine and abrupt versus gradual cessation.

With the lack of a definition based on consensus criteria for the syndrome, a panel met in Phoenix, Arizona in 1997 to form a draft definition, which other groups continued to refine.

In the late 1990s, some investigators thought that the fact that symptoms emerged when antidepressants were discontinued might mean that antidepressants were causing addiction, and some used the term “withdrawal syndrome” to describe the symptoms. While people taking antidepressants do not commonly exhibit drug-seeking behaviour, stopping antidepressants leads to similar symptoms as found in drug withdrawal from benzodiazapines, and other psychotropic drugs. As such, some researchers advocate the term withdrawal over discontinuation, to communicate the similar physiological dependence and negative outcomes. Due to pressure from pharmaceutical companies who make anti-depressants, the term “withdrawal syndrome” is no longer used by drug makers, and thus, most doctors, due to concerns that they may be compared to other drugs more commonly associated with withdrawal.

2013 Class Action Lawsuit

In 2013, a proposed class action lawsuit, Jennifer L Saavedra v. Eli Lilly and Company, was brought against Eli Lilly claiming that the Cymbalta label omitted important information about “brain zaps” and other symptoms upon cessation. Eli Lilly moved for dismissal per the “learned intermediary doctrine” as the doctors prescribing the drug were warned of the potential problems and are an intermediary medical judgment between Lilly and patients; in December 2013 Lilly’s motion to dismiss was denied.

Research

The mechanisms of antidepressant withdrawal syndrome have not yet been conclusively identified. The leading hypothesis is that after the antidepressant is discontinued, there is a temporary, but in some cases, long-lasting, deficiency in the brain of one or more essential neurotransmitters that regulate mood, such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid, and since neurotransmitters are an interrelated system, dysregulation of one affects the others.