Serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors: New hope for the treatment of chronic pain

Pedro L. Delgado

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Depression and painful symptoms occur frequently together. Over 75% of depressed patients report painful symptoms such as headache, stomach pain, neck and back pain as well as non-specific generalized pain. In addition, World Health Organization data have shown that primary care patients with chronic pain have a four fold greater risk of becoming depressed than pain-free patients. Increasingly, pain is considered as an integral symptom of depression and there evidence to suggest that pain and depression may arise from a common neurobiological dysfunction. Serotonergic cell bodies, in the raphe nucleus, and noradrenergic cell bodies in the locus coeruleus send projections to various parts of the brain, where they are involved in the control of mood, movement, cognitive functioning and emotions. In addition both serotonergic and noradrenergic neurons project to the spinal cord. These descending pathways serve to inhibit input from the intestines, skeletal muscles and other sensory inputs. Usually, these inhibitory effects are modest, but in times of stress, in the interest of the survival of the individual, they can completely inhibit the input from painful stimuli. A dysfunction of the serotonergic and noradrenergic neurons can thus affect both the ascending and descending pathways resulting in the psychological symptoms of depression and somatic pain symptoms such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, non-cardiac chest pain, or irritable bowel syndrome. In view of this, it is not surprising that tricyclic antidepressants have been a standard treatment of chronic pain for many years. In contrast and in spite of their improved tolerance, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors do not appear to be particularly effective in the treatment of pain. Recently, a number of open and controlled trials with selective serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors such as venlafaxine, milnacipran and duloxetine, suggest that these compounds may be more effective in relieving pain than selective inhibitors of serotonin reuptake. Wherever valid comparisons have been made the newer dual action drugs appear to be as effective as the tricyclic and considerably better tolerated. Dual action antidepressants may thus soon become the new standard treatment of chronic pain whether it is associated with depression or not. In addition, these agents may also have a role in modulating neurogenesis and other neuroplastic changes in the central nervous system, thereby leading to more complete recovery in patients suffering from the symptoms of depression or chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-21
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice
Issue numberSUPPL. 2
StatePublished - Jun 2006


  • Chronic pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Noradrenaline
  • Serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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