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Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014 Jun;17(6):845-50. doi: 10.1017/S1461145713001764. Epub 2014 Jan 15.

Occupancy of serotonin transporter by tramadol: a positron emission tomography study with [11C]DASB.

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Department of Neuropsychiatry, Nippon Medical School, Tokyo, Japan.
Department of Pharmacology, Nippon Medical School, Tokyo, Japan.


Tramadol is used for the treatment of pain, and it is generally believed to activate the μ-opioid receptor and inhibit serotonin (5-HT) and norepinephrine (NE) transporters. Recent findings from animal experiments suggest that 5-HT reuptake inhibition in brain is related to pain reduction. However, there has been no report of 5-HT transporter (5-HTT) occupancy by tramadol at clinical doses in humans. In the present study, we investigated 5-HTT occupancy by tramadol in five subjects receiving various doses of tramadol by using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning with the radioligand [11C]DASB. Our data showed that mean 5-HTT occupancies in the thalamus by single doses of tramadol were 34.7% at 50 mg and 50.2% at 100 mg. The estimated median effective dose (ED50) of tramadol was 98.1 mg, and the plasma concentration was 0.33 μg/ml 2 h after its administration; 5-HTT occupancy by tramadol was dose-dependent. We estimated 5-HTT occupancy at 78.7% upon taking an upper limit dose (400 mg) of tramadol. The results of the present study support the finding that 5-HTT inhibition is involved in the mechanism underlying the analgesic effect of tramadol in humans, and a clinical dose of tramadol sufficiently inhibits 5-HTT reuptake; this inhibition is similar to that shown by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

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