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J Clin Psychopharmacol. 1988 Dec;8(6):428-33.

Hydroxydesipramine in the elderly.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510.


Elevation of the hydroxy metabolites of the tricyclic antidepressants in the elderly has been demonstrated for nortriptyline and suggested for desipramine by a study reporting elevated hydroxydesipramine (OH-DMI) plasma levels in four older patients. In the current study, patients treated with desipramine (DMI) were studied to determine whether OH-DMI was elevated in two larger samples of depressed elderly patients and to determine the magnitude of the increase, if present. In Sample I, which consisted of 68 patients of whom 23 were over 60 years of age, a fixed target dose of DMI was employed. Sample II, in which 20 of the 56 patients were over 60, received a dose adjusted to attain a fixed target DMI blood level. OH-DMI levels were higher in patients over 60 than in younger patients but the differences were not significant in either sample individually. In the two samples combined, average OH-DMI levels were 11 ng/ml higher in patients over 60 and the difference was significant (t = 2.30, p = 0.02). If variations in dose are accounted for, OH-DMI concentrations are positively correlated with age in both samples. OH-DMI/DMI ratios were not higher in the patients over 60 in these samples, but OH-DMI/DMI ratios may be higher in patients on lower doses with low DMI levels, as is common in the treatment of elderly patients. If comparable dosage is administered, nonlinear increases in DMI levels result in lower OH-DMI/DMI ratios similar to those in younger patients. Although our findings of elevated hydroxy levels in the elderly are consistent with prior reports, the clinical importance of an 11 ng/ml difference, particularly in relation to total drug levels averaging 220 ng/ml, is questioned.

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