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J Clin Psychiatry. 2000;61 Suppl 10:25-30.

Norepinephrine involvement in antidepressant action.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and South Texas Veterans Health Care System, USA.


Because of the introduction and popularity of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, much attention was centered on the indolealkylamine 5-hydroxytryptamine, or serotonin. To some extent, this focus on serotonin occurred at the expense of the catecholamine neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Nevertheless, it has been apparent for almost 40 years that selective blockers of norepinephrine reuptake may be antidepressants (e.g., desipramine). This brief review covers the acute pharmacologic effects that may be responsible for the efficacy of currently marketed antidepressants as well as that of reboxetine, a newly developed selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. Also discussed is the fact that the acute pharmacologic profile of selective reuptake inhibitors often predicts effects they produce when given long term. For example, the long-term administration of SSRIs produces certain effects on serotonergic systems, but not noradrenergic ones. By contrast, selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, when given long term, modify certain noradrenergic parameters, but not serotonergic indices. Finally, it is speculated how drugs that enhance central noradrenergic transmission might ameliorate the symptoms of depression.

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