, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 251-264

A Risk-Benefit Assessment of Mirtazapine in the Treatment of Depression

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Summary

Mirtazapine is the first of a new class of antidepressants, the noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NaSSA). Its antidepressant effect appears to be related to its dual enhancement of central noradrenergic and serotonin 5-HT1 receptor-mediated serotonergic neurotransmission.

Mirtazapine possesses a number of useful pharmacokinetic characteristics such as good absorption, linear pharmacokinetics over the recommended dosage range (15 to 80 mg/day), and an elimination half-life of 20 to 40 hours, thereby allowing once-daily administration. However, since the drug is extensively metabolised by the hepatic cytochrome P450 (CYP) system and is excreted mainly in the urine, its clearance may be reduced by hepatic or renal impairment. In vitro data suggest that from a clinical point of view it is unlikely that mirtazapine would inhibit the metabolism of coadministered drugs metabolised by CYP1A2, CYP2D6 or CYP3A4. In vivo data from a study in extensive and poor metabolisers of debrisoquine indicate that strong inhibitors of CYP2D6 would have no effect on the concentration of racemic mirtazapine.

In some placebo-controlled studies mirtazapine showed an early onset of antidepressant action, with significant reductions in total Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale scores (relative to placebo) noted as early as 1 week after starting treatment. This therapeutic advantage was subsequently maintained during treatment, with mirtazapine proving significantly superior to placebo at treatment end-point in the majority of studies. In comparative trials, the antidepressant efficacy of mirtazapine was comparable with that of tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline, clomipramine and doxepin, and in 2 studies superior to that of trazodone and fluoxetine.

Mirtazapine appears to have a broad spectrum of activity, reflected in its efficacy in a variety of clinical settings. Its additional beneficial effects on the symptoms of anxiety and sleep disturbance associated with depression may reduce the need for concomitant anxiolytic and hypnotic medication seen with some antidepressants.

Mirtazapine has demonstrated superior tolerability to the tricyclic antidepressants and trazodone, primarily on account of its relative absence of anticholinergic, adrenergic and serotonin-related adverse effects, in particular gastrointestinal adverse effects and sexual dysfunction. It appears that increased sedation associated with the drug is related to subtherapeutic dosages, and that it is reported in substantially fewer patients when the drug is used in appropriate dosages (≥15mg as a single evening dose) from the beginning of treatment. Although 2 cases of reversible severe symptomatic neutropenia have been reported in clinical trials, there have been no additional reports of symptomatic neutropenia since the introduction of this drug to various countries in September 1994.

Currently available data and initial clinical experience suggest that with its combination of dual action, simple pharmacokinetics, and clinical efficacy and tolerability, mirtazapine appears to be an important advance in the pharmacotherapy of depression.