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The pharmacological properties of antidepressants

Racagni, Giorgioa b; Popoli, Maurizioa

International Clinical Psychopharmacology: May 2010 - Volume 25 - Issue 3 - p 117-131
doi: 10.1097/YIC.0b013e3283311acd

Antidepressant drugs represent one of the main forms of effective treatment for the amelioration of depressive symptoms. Most available antidepressants increase extracellular levels of monoamines. However, it is now recognized that monoamine levels and availability are only part of the story, and that antidepressants whose mechanism of action is mainly based on the modulation of monoaminergic systems may not be able to satisfy the unmet needs of depression. Therefore, a number of compounds, developed for their potential antidepressant activity, are endowed with putative mechanisms of action not affecting traditional monoamine targets. This article briefly reviews, within a mechanistic perspective, the pharmacological profiles of representative antidepressants from each class, including monoamine oxidase inhibitors, tricyclics, norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake inhibitors, antidepressants interacting with dopaminergic, melatonergic, glutamatergic, or neuropeptide systems. The undesirable side effects of currently used antidepressants, which can often be a reason for lack of compliance, are also considered.

aCenter of Neuropharmacology, Department of Pharmacological Sciences and Center of Excellence on Neurodegenerative Diseases, University of Milano, Milano

bIRCCS-Centro S. Giovanni di Dio, Brescia, Italy

Correspondence to Maurizio Popoli, PhD, Center of Neuropharmacology, Department of Pharmacological Sciences, University of Milano, Via Balzaretti 9, Milano 20133, Italy

Tel: +39 2 5031 8361; fax: +39 2 5031 8278;


Received 15 March 2009 Accepted 22 July 2009

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.