What is Maprotiline?

Introduction

Maprotiline, sold under the brand name Ludiomil among others, is a tetracyclic antidepressant (TeCA) that is used in the treatment of depression.

It may alternatively be classified as a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), specifically a secondary amine. In terms of its chemistry and pharmacology, maprotiline is closely related to other secondary amine TCAs like nortriptyline and protriptyline, and has similar effects to them.

Brief History

Maprotiline was developed by Ciba (now operated by Novartis). It was patented in 1966 and was first described in the literature in 1969. The drug was introduced for medical use in 1974. Generics are now widely available. It was introduced after most of the other TCAs but was the first TeCA to be developed and marketed, with the TeCAs mianserin and amoxapine following shortly thereafter and mirtazapine being introduced later on.

Medical Uses

Maprotiline is used in the treatment of depression, such as depression associated with agitation or anxiety and has similar efficacy to the antidepressant drug moclobemide.

  • Treatment of depression of all forms and severities (endogenous, psychotic, involutional, and neurotic) especially for depression associated with agitation or anxiety.
  • Panic disorder.
  • Neuropathic pain.
  • Treatment of the depressive phase in bipolar depression.
  • For the symptomatic relief of anxiety, tension or insomnia.

The use of maprotiline in the treatment of enuresis in paediatric patients has so far not been systematically explored and its use is not recommended. Safety and effectiveness in the paediatric population in general have not been established. Anyone considering the use of maprotiline in a child or adolescent must balance the potential risks with the clinical need. In general, lower dosages are recommended for patients over 60 years of age. Dosages of 50 mg to 75 mg daily are usually satisfactory as maintenance therapy for elderly patients who do not tolerate higher amounts.[8][9]

Available Forms

  • Coated Tablets, 10 mg, 25 mg, 50 mg, and 75 mg.
  • Injectable concentrate, 25 mg.

Contraindications

Maprotiline may worsen psychotic conditions like schizophrenia and should be given with caution. The antipsychotic treatment should be continued. Patients with bipolar affective disorder should not receive antidepressants whilst in a manic phase, as antidepressants can worsen mania.

Absolute

  • Hypersensitivity to maprotiline or to other TCAs and TeCAs.
  • Hypertrophy of the prostate gland with urine hesitancy.
  • Closed angle glaucoma.

Special Caution Needed

  • Concomitant treatment with a MAO inhibitor.
  • Serious impairment of liver and kidney function.
  • Epilepsy and other conditions that lower the seizure threshold (active brain tumours, alcohol withdrawal, other medications).
  • Serious cardiovascular conditions (arrhythmias, heart insufficience, state after myocardial infarction etc.).
  • Treatment of patients under age 18.

Suicidal Patients

Same as other antidepressants, maprotiline increased the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behaviour (suicidality) in children, adolescents and young adults in short-term studies of major depressive disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders. Anyone considering the use of maprotiline or any other antidepressant in a child, adolescent, or young adult must balance this risk with the clinical need. Short-term studies did not show an increase in the risk of suicidality with antidepressants compared to placebo in adults beyond age 24; there was a reduction in risk with antidepressants compared to placebo in adults aged 65 and older. Depression and certain other psychiatric disorders are themselves associated with increases in the risk of suicide. Patients of all ages who are started on antidepressant therapy should be monitored appropriately and observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behaviour. Families and caregivers should be advised of the need for close observation and communication with the prescriber. Maprotiline is not approved for use in paediatric patients.

Pregnancy and Lactation

Reproduction studies have been performed in female laboratory rabbits, mice, and rats at doses up to 1.3, 7, and 9 times the maximum daily human dose respectively and have revealed no evidence of impaired fertility or harm to the foetus due to maprotiline. There are, however, no adequate and well controlled studies in pregnant women. Because animal reproduction studies are not always predictive of human response, this drug should be used during pregnancy only if clearly needed.

Maprotiline is excreted in breast milk. At steady-state, the concentrations in milk correspond closely to the concentrations in whole blood. Caution should be exercised when maprotiline hydrochloride is administered to a nursing woman.

Side Effects

The side-effect profile is comparable to other TCAs and TeCAS and many of the following are due to anticholinergic (which are less prominent than those of most TCAs) and antihistamine effects. Most often seen are:

  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Somnolence.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dry mouth (and complications of long-term uncontrolled dry mouth such as dental caries).
  • Constipation.
  • Vertigo.
  • Nausea (rare, incidence of ~2%) and vomiting.
  • Increased appetite and weight gain.
  • Orthostatic hypotension, hypertension, sinus tachycardia, heart-block, arrhythmias and other cardiac effects.
  • Sexual dysfunction in men: impotence, priapism, delayed ejaculation, anejaculation, decreased libido.
  • Sexual dysfunction in women: decreased libido, vaginal dryness, painful sexual intercourse, anorgasmia.
  • Allergic skin reactions such as rash or urticaria (more often than with other antidepressants).
    • Rarely, severe skin reactions such as erythema multiforme can occur.
  • Photosensitivity.
  • Agitation, confusion.
  • Induction of hypomania or mania in patients suffering from underlying bipolar affective disorder.
  • Psychotic symptoms.
  • Tremor.
  • Extrapyramidal symptoms.
  • Headache.
  • Seizures (at high doses).
  • Rare haematological complications: leukopenia and agranulocytosis (dangerous fall in white blood cells).
  • Fever.
  • Urinary retention.

Maprotiline causes a strong initial sedation (first 2 to 3 weeks of therapy) and is therefore indicated to treat agitated patients or those with suicidal risks. It causes anticholinergic side effects (dry mouth, constipation, confusion, tachycardia) with a lower incidence than amitriptyline. Originally, the manufacturer claimed that maprotiline is better tolerated than other TCAs and TeCAs. However, seizures, leukopenia and skin reactions occur more often with maprotiline than with comparable drugs like amitriptyline.

Maprotiline has no known potential for abuse and psychological dependence.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms frequently seen when treatment with maprotiline is stopped abruptly (agitation, anxiety, insomnia, sometimes activation of mania or rebound depression) are not indicative of addiction and can be avoided by reducing the daily dose of maprotiline gradually by approximately 25% each week. If treatment has to be stopped at once due to medical reasons, the use of a benzodiazepine (e.g. lorazepam, clonazepam, or alprazolam) for a maximum of 4 weeks as needed will usually suppress withdrawal symptoms.

Interactions

Maprotiline has a wide range of possible interactions. Some are typical for TCAs and TeCAs, others are caused by specific metabolic effects (e.g. high plasma-protein-binding) of maprotiline:

  • Irreversible MAO-inhibitors: agitation, delirium, coma, hyperpyrexia (high fever), seizures and severe changes in blood pressure.
  • Treatment-resistant and hospitalised patients may be treated concomitantly with an MAO-inhibitor, if they are closely monitored and if the initial dose of the MAO-Inhibitor is low.

Increased Drug Actions

  • Other antidepressants, barbiturates, narcotics, sedating antihistamines, anticonvulsive drugs, alcohol, resulting in increased central depression.
  • Anticholinergics (antiparkinsonian agents, TCAs and TeCAs) – resulting in increased anticholinergic action (dry mouth, constipation etc.).
  • Sympathomimetics (also those used in local anaesthetics like noradrenaline):
    • Sympathomimetic effects increased (increased blood pressure, pulse rate, paleness of skin etc.)
  • Nitrates and anti-hypertensives (e.g. beta-blockers), increased antihypertensive action with pronounced fall in blood pressure.

Decreased Drug Actions

  • Guanethidine, Reserpine, Guanfacine : antihypertensive effects decreased.
  • Clonidine: antihypertensive effects decreased and risk of (massive) rebound hypertension.

Other Types of Interaction

  • Drugs, which induce certain enzymes in the liver, e.g. barbiturates, phenytoin, carbamazepine and oral anti-conceptive drugs, enhance the elimination of maprotiline and decrease its antidepressant effects.
    • Additionally the blood-concentrations of phenytoin or carbamazepine may be increased, leading to a higher incidents of side effects.
  • The concomitant use of maprotiline and neuroleptics can lead to increased maprotiline blood-levels and to seizures.
    • Combining maprotiline and thioridazine could induce severe arrhythmias.
  • Additionally, increased blood-levels of Maprotiline are possible, if certain beta-blocking agents (e.g. Propranolol) are given concomitantly.
  • Maprotiline may amplify the actions of coumarin-type anticoagulants (e.g. warfarin, phenprocoumon).
    • The plasma-prothrombin-activity must be assessed closely in order to avoid overt bleedings.
  • Maprotiline can increase the actions of oral antidiabetic drugs (sulfonylureas) and Insulin.
    • Diabetic patients should have regular assessments of their blood-glucose-levels.
  • The concomitant application with fluoxetine or fluvoxamine may lead to significantly increased plasma-levels of maprotiline with a high incidence of maprotiline side effects.
    • Due to the long half-lives of fluoxetine and fluvoxamine this effect may persist.

Pharmacology

Pharmacodynamics

Maprotiline exhibits strong effects as a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor with only weak actions the reuptake of serotonin and dopamine. It is also a strong antagonist of the H1 receptor, a moderate antagonist of the 5-HT2 and α1-adrenergic receptors, and a weak antagonist of the D2 and muscarinic acetylcholine receptors. Maprotiline has also more recently been identified as a potent antagonist of the 5-HT7 receptor, with this action potentially playing an important role in its antidepressant effectiveness. The drug is a strong antihistamine, but unlike most TCAs, has minimal anticholinergic effects.

The pharmacological profile of maprotiline explains its antidepressant, sedative, anxiolytic, and sympathomimetic activities. In accordance to the pharmacological characteristics it is used in the treatment of depression, such as depression associated with agitation or anxiety. Additionally, it shows strong antagonism against reserpine-induced effects in animal studies, as do the other ‘classical’ antidepressants. Although maprotiline behaves in most regards as a ‘first-generation antidepressant’ it is commonly referred to as ‘second-generation antidepressant’.

The postulated mechanism of maprotiline is that it acts primarily by potentiation of central adrenergic synapses by blocking reuptake of norepinephrine at nerve endings. This pharmacological action is thought to be primarily responsible for the drug’s antidepressant and anxiolytic effects. It is a strong norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor with only weak effects on serotonin and dopamine reuptake. At higher doses however, maprotiline increases serotonergic transmission and increases the level of serotonin available.

Pharmacokinetics

After oral use absorption is good. It binds to plasma proteins 80-90%. Maximal plasma concentration is reached 6 hours after use. The mean time to peak is 12 hours. The terminal half-life of averages 51 hours.

Chemistry

Maprotiline is a tetracyclic compound and is grouped with the TeCAs. Its chemical name is N-methyl-9,10-ethanoanthracen-9(10H)-propylamine. The drug has a dibenzobicyclo[2.2.2]octadiene (9,10-dihydro-9,10-ethanoanthracene) ring system; that is, a tricyclic anthracene ring system with an ethylene bridge across the central ring. This results in it having a unique three-dimensional central ring (a bicyclo[2.2.2]octane or 1,4-endoethylenecyclohexane ring) and being a tetracyclic rather than a tricyclic compound. However, it could also or alternatively be considered to be a tricyclic and hence a TCA. In addition to its heterocyclic ring system, maprotiline has an alkylamine side chain attached similarly to other TCAs (but notably unlike other TeCAs). In terms of the side chain, it is a secondary amine, and its chemical structure, aside from the ethylene link in the central ring, is similar to that of secondary amine TCAs like nortriptyline and protriptyline. In accordance, the pharmacology of maprotiline is very similar to that of secondary amine TCAs.

Maprotiline is very similar in structure to the anxiolytic, sedative, and muscle relaxant drug benzoctamine (Tacitin). The only structural difference between the two compounds is in the length of their side chain. However, this modification results in considerable differences in their pharmacological and therapeutic effects.

Society and Culture

Generic Names

Maprotiline is the English and French generic name of the drug and its INN, USAN, BAN, and DCF, while maprotiline hydrochloride is its USAN, USP, BANM and JAN. Its generic name in Spanish and Italian and its DCIT are maprotilina, in German is maprotilin, and in Latin is maprotilinum. The methanesulfonate (mesylate) salt is known unofficially as maprotiline methanesulfonate.

Brand Names

Maprotiline is marketed throughout the world mainly under the brand name Ludiomil. It is also available under a variety of other brand names including Deprilept, Maprolu, and Psymion among others.

What is Melitracen?

Introduction

Melitracen (brand names Melixeran) is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), for the treatment of depression and anxiety.

Refer to Flupentixol/Melitracen.

Background

In addition to single drug preparations, it is also available as Deanxit, marketed by Lundbeck, a combination product containing both melitracen and flupentixol.

The pharmacology of melitracen has not been properly investigated and is largely unknown, but it is likely to act in a similar manner to other TCAs. Indeed, melitracen is reported to have imipramine and amitriptyline-like effects and efficacy against depression and anxiety, though with improved tolerability and a somewhat faster onset of action.

What is Flupentixol?

Introduction

Flupentixol (INN), also known as flupenthixol (former BAN), marketed under brand names such as Depixol and Fluanxol is a typical antipsychotic drug of the thioxanthene class.

It was introduced in 1965 by Lundbeck. In addition to single drug preparations, it is also available as flupentixol/melitracen – a combination product containing both melitracen (a tricyclic antidepressant) and flupentixol. Flupentixol is not approved for use in the United States. It is, however, approved for use in the UK, Australia, Canada, Russian Federation, South Africa, New Zealand, Philippines and various other countries.

Brief History

In March 1963 the Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck began research into further agents for schizophrenia, having already developed the thioxanthene derivatives clopenthixol and chlorprothixene. By 1965 the promising agent flupenthixol had been developed and trialled in two hospitals in Vienna by Austrian psychiatrist Heinrich Gross. The long-acting decanoate preparation was synthesised in 1967 and introduced into hospital practice in Sweden in 1968, with a reduction in relapses among patients who were put on the depot.

Medical Uses

Flupentixol’s main use is as a long-acting injection given once in every two or three weeks to individuals with schizophrenia who have poor compliance with medication and suffer frequent relapses of illness, though it is also commonly given as a tablet. There is little formal evidence to support its use for this indication but it has been in use for over fifty years.

Flupentixol is also used in low doses as an antidepressant. There is tentative evidence that it reduces the rate of deliberate self-harm, among those who self-harm repeatedly.

Adverse Effects

Common (>1% incidence) adverse effects include:

  • Extrapyramidal side effects such as (which usually become apparent soon after therapy is begun or soon after an increase in dose is made):
    • Muscle rigidity.
    • Hypokinesia.
    • Hyperkinesia.
    • Parkinsonism.
    • Tremor.
    • Akathisia.
    • Dystonia.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Constipation.
  • Hypersalivation – excessive salivation.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Diaphoresis – excessive sweating.
  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Somnolence.
  • Restlessness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Overactivity.
  • Headache.
  • Nervousness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Myalgia.
  • Hyperprolactinemia and its complications such as: (acutely).
    • Sexual dysfunction.
    • Amenorrhea – cessation of menstrual cycles.
    • Gynecomastia – enlargement of breast tissue in males.
    • Galactorrhea – the expulsion of breast milk that’s not related to breastfeeding or pregnancy
      and if the hyperprolactinemia persists chronically, the following adverse effects may be seen:
    • Reduced bone mineral density leading to osteoporosis (brittle bones).
    • Infertility.
  • Dyspepsia – indigestion.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Flatulence.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Polyuria – passing more urine than usual.

Uncommon (0.1-1% incidence) adverse effects include:

  • Fainting.
  • Palpitations.

Rare (<0.1% incidence) adverse effects include:

  • Blood dyscrasias (abnormalities in the cell composition of blood), such as:
    • Agranulocytosis – a drop in white blood cell counts that leaves one open to potentially life-threatening infections.
    • Neutropenia – a drop in the number of neutrophils (white blood cells that specifically fight bacteria) in one’s blood.
    • Leucopenia – a less severe drop in white blood cell counts than agranulocytosis.
    • Thrombocytopenia – a drop in the number of platelets in the blood. Platelets are responsible for blood clotting and hence this leads to an increased risk of bruising and other bleeds.
  • Neuroleptic malignant syndrome – a potentially fatal condition that appear to result from central D2 receptor blockade. The symptoms include:
    • Hyperthermia
    • Muscle rigidity
    • Rhabdomyolysis
    • Autonomic instability (e.g. tachycardia, diarrhoea, diaphoresis, etc.).
    • Mental status changes (e.g. coma, agitation, anxiety, confusion, etc.).

Unknown incidence adverse effects include:

  • Jaundice.
  • Abnormal liver function test results.
  • Tardive dyskinesia – an often incurable movement disorder that usually results from years of continuous treatment with antipsychotic drugs, especially typical antipsychotics like flupenthixol. It presents with repetitive, involuntary, purposeless and slow movements; TD can be triggered by a fast dose reduction in any antipsychotic.
  • Hypotension.
  • Confusional state.
  • Seizures.
  • Mania.
  • Hypomania.
  • Depression.
  • Hot flush.
  • Anergia.
  • Appetite changes.
  • Weight changes.
  • Hyperglycaemia – high blood glucose (sugar) levels.
  • Abnormal glucose tolerance.
  • Pruritus – itchiness.
  • Rash.
  • Dermatitis.
  • Photosensitivity – sensitivity to light.
  • Oculogyric crisis.
  • Accommodation disorder.
  • Sleep disorder.
  • Impaired concentration.
  • Tachycardia.
  • QTc interval prolongation – an abnormality in the electrical activity of the heart that can lead to potentially fatal changes in heart rhythm (only in overdose or <10 ms increases in QTc).
  • Torsades de pointes.
  • Miosis – constriction of the pupil of the eye.
  • Paralytic ileus – paralysis of the bowel muscles leading to severe constipation, inability to pass wind, etc.
  • Mydriasis.
  • Glaucoma.

Interactions

It should not be used concomitantly with medications known to prolong the QTc interval (e.g. 5-HT3 antagonists, tricyclic antidepressants, citalopram, etc.) as this may lead to an increased risk of QTc interval prolongation. Neither should it be given concurrently with lithium (medication) as it may increase the risk of lithium toxicity and neuroleptic malignant syndrome. It should not be given concurrently with other antipsychotics due to the potential for this to increase the risk of side effects, especially neurological side effects such as neuroleptic malignant syndrome. It should be avoided in patients on CNS depressants such as opioids, alcohol and barbiturates.

Contraindications

It should not be given in the following disease states:

  • Pheochromocytoma.
  • Prolactin-dependent tumours such as pituitary prolactinomas and breast cancer.
  • Long QT syndrome.
  • Coma.
  • Circulatory collapse.
  • Subcortical brain damage.
  • Blood dyscrasia.
  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies.

What is Flupentixol/Melitracen?

Introduction

Flupentixol/melitracen (trade name Frenxit, Placida, Deanxit, Anxidreg, Danxipress) is a combination of two psychoactive agents flupentixol (a typical antipsychotic drug of the thioxanthene class) and melitracen, a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) which has antidepressant properties.

It is designed for short term usage only. It is produced by Lundbeck.

Other Brand Names

  • Pentoxol.m (scotmann pharmaceuticals Pakistan).
  • Sensit (Eskayef Bangladesh Ltd.).
  • Renxit (Renata Ltd.).
  • Melixol (Square Pharmaceuticals Ltd.).
  • Melanxit (Organic Health Care Ltd.).
  • Benzit (Bio-Pharma Ltd.).
  • Leanxit (ACME Laboratories Ltd.).
  • Danxipress (Vickmans Lab Ltd.).
  • Amilax (Amico Lab Ltd).

What is Imipramine?

Introduction

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

It is also effective in treating anxiety and panic disorder. The drug is also used to treat bedwetting. Imipramine is taken by mouth.

Common side effects of imipramine include dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, urinary retention, and electrocardiogram changes. Overdose of the medication can result in death. Imipramine appears to work by increasing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine and by blocking certain serotonin, adrenergic, histamine, and cholinergic receptors.

Imipramine was discovered in 1951 and was introduced for medical use in 1957. It was the first TCA to be marketed. Imipramine and the other TCAs have decreased in use in recent decades, due to the introduction of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which have fewer side effects and are safer in overdose.

Brief History

The parent compound of imipramine, 10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenz[b,f]azepine (dibenzazepine), was first synthesized in 1899, but no pharmacological assessment of this compound or any substituted derivatives was undertaken until the late 1940s. Imipramine was first synthesized in 1951, as an antihistamine. The antipsychotic effects of chlorpromazine were discovered in 1952, and imipramine was then developed and studied as an antipsychotic for use in patients with schizophrenia. The medication was tested in several hundred patients with psychosis, but showed little effectiveness. However, imipramine was serendipitously found to possess antidepressant effects in the mid-1950s following a case report of symptom improvement in a woman with severe depression who had been treated with it. This was followed by similar observations in other patients and further clinical research. Subsequently, imipramine was introduced for the treatment of depression in Europe in 1958 and in the United States in 1959. Along with the discovery and introduction of the monoamine oxidase inhibitor iproniazid as an antidepressant around the same time, imipramine resulted in the establishment of monoaminergic drugs as antidepressants.

In the late 1950s, imipramine was the first TCA to be developed (by Ciba). At the first international congress of neuropharmacology in Rome, September 1958 Dr Freyhan from the University of Pennsylvania discussed as one of the first clinicians the effects of imipramine in a group of 46 patients, most of them diagnosed as “depressive psychosis”. The patients were selected for this study based on symptoms such as depressive apathy, kinetic retardation and feelings of hopelessness and despair. In 30% of all patients, he reported optimal results, and in around 20%, failure. The side effects noted were atropine-like, and most patients suffered from dizziness. Imipramine was first tried against psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, but proved ineffective. As an antidepressant, it did well in clinical studies and it is known to work well in even the most severe cases of depression. It is not surprising, therefore, that imipramine may cause a high rate of manic and hypomanic reactions in hospitalised patients with pre-existing bipolar disorder, with one study showing that up to 25% of such patients maintained on Imipramine switched into mania or hypomania. Such powerful antidepressant properties have made it favourable in the treatment of treatment-resistant depression.

Before the advent of SSRIs, its sometimes intolerable side-effect profile was considered more tolerable. Therefore, it became extensively used as a standard antidepressant and later served as a prototypical drug for the development of the later-released TCAs. Since the 1990s, it has no longer been used as commonly, but is sometimes still prescribed as a second-line treatment for treating major depression . It has also seen limited use in the treatment of migraines, ADHD, and post-concussive syndrome. Imipramine has additional indications for the treatment of panic attacks, chronic pain, and Kleine-Levin syndrome. In paediatric patients, it is relatively frequently used to treat pavor nocturnus and nocturnal enuresis.

Medical Uses

Imipramine is used in the treatment of depression and certain anxiety disorders. It is similar in efficacy to the antidepressant drug moclobemide. It has also been used to treat nocturnal enuresis because of its ability to shorten the time of delta wave stage sleep, where wetting occurs. In veterinary medicine, imipramine is used with xylazine to induce pharmacologic ejaculation in stallions. Blood levels between 150-250 ng/mL of imipramine plus its metabolite desipramine generally correspond to antidepressant efficacy.

Available Forms

Imipramine is available in the form of oral tablets and capsules.

Contraindications

Combining it with alcohol consumption causes excessive drowsiness. It may be unsafe during pregnancy.

Side Effects

Those listed in italics below denote common side effects.

  • Central nervous system: dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, seizures, headache, anxiety, tremors, stimulation, weakness, insomnia, nightmares, extrapyramidal symptoms in geriatric patients, increased psychiatric symptoms, paraesthesia.
  • Cardiovascular: orthostatic hypotension, ECG changes, tachycardia, hypertension, palpitations, dysrhythmias
  • Eyes, ears, nose and throat: blurred vision, tinnitus, mydriasis.
  • Gastrointestinal: dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, paralytic ileus, increased appetite, cramps, epigastric distress, jaundice, hepatitis, stomatitis, constipation, taste change.
  • Genitourinary: urinary retention.
  • Hematological: agranulocytosis, thrombocytopenia, eosinophilia, leukopenia.
  • Skin: rash, urticaria, diaphoresis, pruritus, photosensitivity.

Overdose

Refer to Tricyclic Antidepressant Overdose.

Pharmacology

Pharmacodynamics

Imipramine affects numerous neurotransmitter systems known to be involved in the aetiology of depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), enuresis and numerous other mental and physical conditions. Imipramine is similar in structure to some muscle relaxants, and has a significant analgesic effect and, thus, is very useful in some pain conditions.

The mechanisms of imipramine’s actions include, but are not limited to, effects on:

  • Serotonin: very strong reuptake inhibition.
  • Norepinephrine: strong reuptake inhibition.
    • Desipramine has more affinity to norepinephrine transporter than imipramine.
  • Dopamine:
    • Imipramine blocks D2 receptors.
    • Imipramine, and its metabolite desipramine, have no appreciable affinity for the dopamine transporter (Ki = 8,500 and >10,000 nM, respectively).
  • Acetylcholine:
    • Imipramine is an anticholinergic, specifically an antagonist of the muscarinic acetylcholine receptors.
    • Thus, it is prescribed with caution to the elderly and with extreme caution to those with psychosis, as the general brain activity enhancement in combination with the “dementing” effects of anticholinergics increases the potential of imipramine to cause hallucinations, confusion and delirium in this population.
  • Epinephrine:
    • Imipramine antagonises adrenergic receptors, thus sometimes causing orthostatic hypotension.
  • Sigma receptor:
    • Activity on sigma receptors is present, but it is very weak (Ki = 520 nM) and it is about half that of amitriptyline (Ki = 300 nM).
  • Histamine:
    • Imipramine is an antagonist of the histamine H1 receptors.
  • BDNF:
    • BDNF is implicated in neurogenesis in the hippocampus, and studies suggest that depressed patients have decreased levels of BDNF and reduced hippocampal neurogenesis.
    • It is not clear how neurogenesis restores mood, as ablation of hippocampal neurogenesis in murine models do not show anxiety related or depression related behaviours.
    • Chronic imipramine administration results in increased histone acetylation (which is associated with transcriptional activation and decondensed chromatin) at the hippocampal BDNF promoter, and also reduced expression of hippocampal HDAC5.

Pharmacokinetics

Within the body, imipramine is converted into desipramine (desmethylimipramine) as a metabolite.

Chemistry

Imipramine 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 desipramine (N-desmethylimipramine), clomipramine (3-chloroimipramine), trimipramine (2′-methylimipramine or β-methylimipramine), and lofepramine (N-(4-chlorobenzoylmethyl)desipramine). Imipramine is a tertiary amine TCA, with its side chain-demethylated metabolite desipramine being a secondary amine. Other tertiary amine TCAs include amitriptyline, clomipramine, dosulepin (dothiepin), doxepin, and trimipramine. The chemical name of imipramine is 3-(10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[b,f]azepin-5-yl)-N,N-dimethylpropan-1-amine and its free base form has a chemical formula of C19H24N2 with a molecular weight of 280.407 g/mol. The drug is used commercially mostly as the hydrochloride salt; the embonate (pamoate) salt is used for intramuscular administration and the free base form is not used. The CAS Registry Number of the free base is 50-49-7, of the hydrochloride is 113-52-0, and of the embonate is 10075-24-8.

Society and Culture

Generic Names

Imipramine is the English and French generic name of the drug and its INN, BAN, and DCF, while imipramine hydrochloride is its USAN, USP, BANM, and JAN. Its generic name in Spanish and Italian and its DCIT are imipramina, in German is imipramin, and in Latin is imipraminum. The embonate salt is known as imipramine pamoate.

Brand Names

Imipramine is marketed throughout the world mainly under the brand name Tofranil. Imipramine pamoate is marketed under the brand name Tofranil-PM for intramuscular injection.

Availability

Imipramine is available for medical use widely throughout the world, including in the United States, the United Kingdom, elsewhere in Europe, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

What is Lofepramine?

Introduction

Lofepramine, sold under the brand names Gamanil, Lomont, and Tymelyt among others, is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) which is used to treat depression.

The TCAs are so named as they share the common property of having three rings in their chemical structure. Like most TCAs lofepramine is believed to work in relieving depression by increasing concentrations of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin in the synapse, by inhibiting their reuptake. It is usually considered a third-generation TCA, as unlike the first- and second-generation TCAs it is relatively safe in overdose and has milder and less frequent side effects.

Lofepramine is not available in the United States, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, although it is available in Ireland, Japan, South Africa and the United Kingdom, among other countries.

Brief History

Lofepramine was developed by Leo Läkemedel AB. It first appeared in the literature in 1969 and was patented in 1970. The drug was first introduced for the treatment of depression in either 1980 or 1983.

Depression

In the United Kingdom, lofepramine is licensed for the treatment of depression which is its primary use in medicine.

Lofepramine is an efficacious antidepressant with about 64% patients responding to it.

Contraindications

To be used with caution, or not at all, for people with the following conditions:

  • Heart disease.
  • Impaired kidney or liver function.
  • Narrow angle glaucoma.
  • In the immediate recovery period after myocardial infarction.
  • In arrhythmias (particularly heart block).
  • Mania.
  • In severe liver and/or severe renal impairment.

And in those being treated with amiodarone or terfenadine.

Pregnancy and Lactation

Lofepramine use during pregnancy is advised against unless the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. This is because its safety during pregnancy has not been established and animal studies have shown some potential for harm if used during pregnancy. If used during the third trimester of pregnancy it can cause insufficient breathing to meet oxygen requirements, agitation and withdrawal symptoms in the infant. Likewise its use by breastfeeding women is advised against, except when the benefits clearly outweigh the risks, due to the fact it is excreted in the breast milk and may therefore adversely affect the infant. Although the amount secreted in breast milk is likely too small to be harmful.

Side Effects

The most common adverse effects (occurring in at least 1% of those taking the drug) include agitation, anxiety, confusion, dizziness, irritability, abnormal sensations, like pins and needles, without a physical cause, sleep disturbances (e.g. sleeplessness) and a drop in blood pressure upon standing up. Less frequent side effects include movement disorders (like tremors), precipitation of angle closure glaucoma and the potentially fatal side effects paralytic ileus and neuroleptic malignant syndrome.

Dropout incidence due to side effects is about 20%.

Side effects with unknown frequency include (but are not limited to):

  • Digestive effects:
    • Constipation.
    • Diarrhoea.
    • Dry mouth.
    • Nausea.
    • Taste disturbances.
    • Vomiting.
  • Effects on the heart:
    • Arrhythmia.
    • ECG changes.
    • Abnormal heart rhythm.
    • Heart block.
    • Sudden cardiac death.
    • High heart rate.
  • Blood abnormalities:
    • Abnormal blood cell counts.
    • Blood sugar changes.
    • Low blood sodium levels.
  • Breast effects:
    • Breast enlargement, including in males.
    • Spontaneous breast milk secretion that is unrelated to breastfeeding or pregnancy.
  • Effects on the skin:
    • Abnormal sweating.
    • Hair loss.
    • Hives.
    • Increased light sensitivity.
    • Itching.
    • Rash.
  • Mental / neurologic effects:
    • Delusions.
    • Hallucinations.
    • Headache.
    • Hypomania/mania.
    • Seizures.
    • Suicidal behaviour.
  • Other effects:
    • Appetite changes.
    • Blurred vision.
    • Difficulty emptying the bladder.
    • Difficulty talking due to difficulties in moving the required muscles.
    • Liver problems.
    • Ringing in the ears.
    • Sexual dysfunction, such as impotence.
    • Swelling.
    • Weight changes.

Withdrawal

If abruptly stopped after regular use it can cause withdrawal effects such as sleeplessness, irritability and excessive sweating.

Overdose

Refer to Tricyclic Antidepressant Overdose.

Compared to other TCAs, lofepramine is considered to be less toxic in overdose. Its treatment is mostly a matter of trying to reduce absorption of the drug, if possible, using gastric lavage and monitoring for adverse effects on the heart.

Interactions

Lofepramine is known to interact with:

  • Alcohol. Increased sedative effect.
  • Altretamine. Risk of severe drop in blood pressure upon standing.
  • Analgesics (painkillers). Increased risk of ventricular arrhythmias.
  • Anticoagulants (blood thinners). Lofepramine may inhibit the metabolism of certain anticoagulants leading to a potentially increased risk of bleeding.
  • Anticonvulsants. Possibly reduce the anticonvulsant effect of antiepileptics by lowering the seizure threshold.
  • Antihistamines. Possible increase of antimuscarinic (potentially increasing risk of paralytic ileus, among other effects) and sedative effects.
  • Antimuscarinics. Possible increase of antimuscarinic side-effects.
  • Anxiolytics and hypnotics. Increased sedative effect.
  • Apraclonidine. Avoidance advised by manufacturer of apraclonidine.
  • Brimonidine. Avoidance advised by manufacturer of brimonidine.
  • Clonidine. Lofepramine may reduce the antihypertensive effects of clonidine.
  • Diazoxide. Enhanced hypotensive (blood pressure-lowering) effect.
  • Digoxin. May increase risk of irregular heart rate.
  • Disulfiram. May require a reduction of lofepramine dose.
  • Diuretics. Increased risk of reduced blood pressure on standing.
  • Cimetidine, diltiazem, verapamil. May increase concentration of lofepramine in the blood plasma.
  • Hydralazine. Enhanced hypotensive effect.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Advised not to be started until at least 2 weeks after stopping MAOIs. MAOIs are advised not to be started until at least 1-2 weeks after stopping TCAs like lofepramine.
  • Moclobemide. Moclobemide is advised not to be started until at least one week after treatment with TCAs is discontinued.
  • Nitrates. Could possibly reduce the effects of sublingual tablets of nitrates (failure to dissolve under tongue owing to dry mouth).
  • Rifampicin. May accelerate lofepramine metabolism thereby decreasing plasma concentrations of lofepramine.
  • Ritonavir. May increase lofepramine concentration in the blood plasma.
  • Sodium nitroprusside. Enhanced hypotensive effect.
  • Thyroid hormones. Effects on the heart of lofepramine may be exacerbated.

Pharmacology

Pharmacodynamics

Lofepramine is a strong inhibitor of norepinephrine reuptake and a moderate inhibitor of serotonin reuptake. It is a weak-intermediate level antagonist of the muscarinic acetylcholine receptors.

Lofepramine has been said to be a prodrug of desipramine, although there is also evidence against this notion.

Pharmacokinetics

Lofepramine is extensively metabolised, via cleavage of the p-chlorophenacyl group, to the TCA, desipramine, in humans. However, it is unlikely this property plays a substantial role in its overall effects as lofepramine exhibits lower toxicity and anticholinergic side effects relative to desipramine while retaining equivalent antidepressant efficacy. The p-chlorophenacyl group is metabolised to p-chlorobenzoic acid which is then conjugated with glycine and excreted in the urine. The desipramine metabolite is partly secreted in the faeces. Other routes of metabolism include hydroxylation, glucuronidation, N-dealkylation and N-oxidation.

Chemistry

Lofepramine 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, clomipramine, and trimipramine. Lofepramine is a tertiary amine TCA, with its side chain-demethylated metabolite desipramine being a secondary amine. Unlike other tertiary amine TCAs, lofepramine has a bulky 4-chlorobenzoylmethyl substituent on its amine instead of a methyl group. Although lofepramine is technically a tertiary amine, it acts in large part as a prodrug of desipramine, and is more similar to secondary amine TCAs in its effects. Other secondary amine TCAs besides desipramine include nortriptyline and protriptyline. The chemical name of lofepramine is N-(4-chlorobenzoylmethyl)-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 C26H27ClN2O with a molecular weight of 418.958 g/mol. The drug is used commercially mostly as the hydrochloride salt; the free base form is not used. The CAS Registry Number of the free base is 23047-25-8 and of the hydrochloride is 26786-32-3.

Society and Culture

Generic Names

Lofepramine is the generic name of the drug and its INN and BAN, while lofepramine hydrochloride is its USAN, BANM, and JAN. Its generic name in French and its DCF are lofépramine, in Spanish and Italian and its DCIT are lofepramina, in German is lofepramin, and in Latin is lofepraminum.

Brand Names

Brand names of lofepramine include Amplit, Deftan, Deprimil, Emdalen, Gamanil, Gamonil, Lomont, Tymelet, and Tymelyt.

Availability

In the United Kingdom, lofepramine is marketed (as the hydrochloride salt) in the form of 70 mg tablets and 70 mg/5 mL oral suspension.

Research

Fatigue

A formulation containing lofepramine and the amino acid phenylalanine is under investigation as a treatment for fatigue as of 2015.

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.