Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors dissociate fenfluramine's anorectic and neurotoxic effects: Importance of dose, species and drug

Una D. Mccann, Jie Yuan, George Hatzidimitriou, George A. Ricaurte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Fenfluramine, a clinically prescribed appetite suppressant, has been found to damage brain serotonin (5-HT) neurons in every animal species tested to date. Recent findings indicate that fluoxetine, a selective 5-HT reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), can prevent fenfluramine-induced 5-HT neurotoxicity without blocking fenfluramine-induced appetite suppression. The purpose of our studies was several-fold: 1) To determine whether the ability for fluoxetine to dissociate fenfluramine-induced anorexia and neurotoxicity is dose- related; 2) to ascertain whether other SSRIs also prevent fenfluramine- induced neurotoxicity without altering its anorectic effect; 3) to determine whether similar fluoxetine/fenfluramine interactions are seen in another animal species (i.e., mice) and 4) to determine whether decreases in food intake seen after the fluoxetine/fenfluramine combination can be attributed to nonspecific behavioral suppression. Results from our studies indicate that fluoxetine's effects are, indeed, dose-related, because higher doses of fluoxetine are required to protect against the 5-HT neurotoxic effects of higher doses of fenfluramine. Further, our results indicate that fluoxetine's effects generalize to all other SSRIs tested (citalopram, paroxetine and sertraline), as well as to other species (mice). Finally, our results demonstrate that anorexia in animals receiving the fenfluramine/fluoxetine combination is not secondary to nonspecific behavioral suppression, because water intake is increased although food intake is decreased in the same animals. Together, these data suggest that the anorectic and 5-HT neurotoxic effects of fenfluramine may involve different mechanisms, and that by combining fenfluramine with SSRIs, it may be possible to exploit fenfluramine's clinically useful properties (e.g., anorexia) without risking brain 5-HT neural injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1487-1498
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology

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