Antidepressant may help in treating heart failure

9th April 2015

Researchers have found that an antidepressant drug appears to improve heart failure in mice.

In the study, published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers at the Centre for Translational Medicine at Temple University’s School of Medicine in Philadelphia concluded the antidepressant paroxetine improved cardiac function in the rodent and, in some instances, even reversed some signs of heart failure.

Paroxetine (trade name Paxil among others) is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) used to treat major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder,  anxiety disorder and for menopausal hot flashes and night sweats.

Study co-author pharmacology professor Walter Koch, from Temple, said it was surprising that paroxetine had worked so well in mice with heart failure.

They believed it was due to the drug affecting the protein GRK2 which is unregulated in the failing human heart.

Paroxetine has been shown to inhibit GRK2, and the study showed that, by treating mice for four weeks with the antidepressant, it was possible to see the heart’s left ventricle improve in structure and function.

Mice that had had a heart attack were used in the study. Paroxetine improved the left ventricle’s ability to pump blood and protected the heart from scarring and fibrosis, said the team.

Professor Koch said: “Our study proves that small molecule pharmacological inhibitors of GRK2 would be truly innovative and may offer new hope for heart failure therapy.”

But he warned that the dose of paroxetine needed to inhibit GRK humans might be too high.

However, he felt new compounds derived from paroxetine that were more targeted to GRK2 without affecting serotonin (the operating drug agent in depression) could be developed to treat heart failure.

“We are certainly trying to come up with these compounds because heart failure is a disease where new drugs are needed,” Professor Koch said.

Researchers are currently looking at available clinical data where heart failure patients were treated with paroxetine to see if they can uncover existing data where paroxetine did improve cardiac pump function.