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Ashina S, Bendtsen L, Jensen R. Analgesic effect of amitriptyline in chronic tension-type headache is not directly related to serotonin reuptake inhibition. Pain. 2004;108:108-114.

The tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline is the only documented and most widely used prophylactic drug for chronic tension-type headache (CTTH). However, it is not fully clarified whether the serotonin (5-HT) reuptake inhibition plays a major role for the analgesic effect of amitriptyline. To explore the importance of 5-HT reuptake inhibition for mechanism of action of the analgesic effect of amitriptyline, we investigated platelet 5-HT levels during preventive treatment of CTTH with amitriptyline, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor citalopram, and placebo. Thirty-four patients with CTTH were given preventive treatment with amitriptyline 75 mg/day, the selective 5-HT reuptake inhibitor citalopram 20 mg/day, and placebo in a 32-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, three-way crossover trial. Blood samples were collected in the last week of each treatment period. Platelet 5-HT was used as a measure of 5-HT reuptake inhibition and determined by high performance liquid chromatography. The area under the headache curve was 308 (157-715) (median with quartiles in parentheses) with amitriptyline, and significantly lower than 377 (158-1121) with citalopram (P= 0.04), and 441 (178-1408) with placebo (P= 0.002). There was no difference between citalopram and placebo (P= 0.23). Platelet 5-HT was 0.4 (0.3-0.7) × 10−18 mol/platelet with citalopram, which was significantly lower than 1.7 (1.2-2.4) × 10-18 mol/platelet with amitriptyline (P < 0.001), and 3.5 (2.8-4.3) × 10-18 mol/platelet with placebo (P < 0.001). The lower platelet 5-HT during treatment with citalopram than amitriptyline indicates that 5-HT reuptake was most effectively inhibited by citalopram. In contrast, amitriptyline was most effective in reduction of headache. This suggests that the analgesic effect of amitriptyline in CTTH is not solely due to 5-HT reuptake inhibition and that other mechanisms such as norepinephrine reuptake inhibition, NMDA receptor antagonism, blockade of muscarinic receptors and ion channels should be addressed in the future research.

Comment: This paper uses indirect measures of serotonin uptake to suggest a lack of effect for amitriptiline via this mechanism versus citalopram. Amitriptiline is a highly active pharmacological agent with many actions. It may be that combinations of pharmacodynamic effects are required for efficacy. Hence this study does not rule out serotonin reuptake, it just makes it less likely. —David S. Millson
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-10-01

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