Several classes of drugs target the 5-HT system including some antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics, antiemetics, and antimigraine drugs as well as the psychedelic drugs and empathogens.
The psychedelic drugs psilocin/psilocybin, DMT, mescaline, and LSD are agonists primarily at 5HT2A/2C receptors. The Empathogen-entactogen MDMA (ecstasy) releases serotonin from synaptic vesicles of neurons.
The MAOIs prevent the breakdown of monoamine neurotransmitters (including serotonin), and therefore increase concentrations of the neurotransmitter in the brain. MAOI therapy is associated with many adverse drug reactions, and patients are at risk of hypertensive emergency triggered by foods with high tyramine content and certain drugs.
Some drugs inhibit the re-uptake of serotonin, making it stay in the synapse longer. The tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) inhibit the re-uptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine. The newer selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have fewer side-effects and fewer interactions with other drugs. The side effects that have become apparent in recent times include a decrease in bone mass in elderly and increased risk for osteoporosis. However, it is not yet clear whether it is due to SSRI action on peripheral serotonin production and or action in the gut or in the brain.
Certain SSRI medications have been shown to lower serotonin levels below the baseline after chronic use, despite initial increases in serotonin. This has been connected to the observation that the benefit of SSRI's may decrease in selected patients after a long-term treatment. A switch in medication will usually resolve this issue (up to 70% of the time).
The novel antidepressant tianeptine, a selective serotonin reuptake ''enhancer'', has mood-elevating effects. This provides evidence for the theory that serotonin is most likely used to regulate the extent or intensity of moods.
5-HT3 antagonists such as ondansetron, granisetron, and tropisetron are important antiemetic agents. They are particularly important in treating the nausea and vomiting that occur during anticancer chemotherapy using cytotoxic drugs. Another application is in the treatment of post-operative nausea and vomiting. Applications to the treatment of depression and other mental and psychological conditions have also been investigated with some positive results.
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