Migraine pharmacotherapy with oral triptans: a rational approach to clinical management

Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2000 Mar;1(3):391-404. doi: 10.1517/14656566.1.3.391.


The recent clinical development of a number of migraine specific 5-HT1B/1D agonist triptans with enhanced lipophilicity (TELs), relative to the first drug of this class sumatriptan, and with a range of different metabolic, pharmacokinetic and receptor affinity profiles, provides the potential for critically different clinical profiles. Eletriptan, naratriptan, rizatriptan and zolmitriptan display both increased stability to first pass metabolic inactivation by monoamine oxidase (MAO-A) and enhanced lipophilicity (4- to > 120-fold more than sumatriptan), leading to increased oral bioavailability (2- to 5-fold more than the 14% reported for oral sumatriptan). Central penetration and increased receptor affinity and selectivity for the neuronal (5-HT1D) receptor also combine to allow for lower total oral dosing (i.e., unit doses of 15 mg or less compared with 50-300 mg doses of sumatriptan) and reduced peripheral exposure to the coronary vasoconstrictor (5-HT1B) receptor. The notable exception being eletriptan, where an active P-glycoprotein blood-brain barrier efflux system effectively negates these benefits and requires an 80 mg oral dose. Differences in the metabolic balance between hepatic P450 (especially CYP 1A2) and MAO-A inactivation lead to potential drug interactions for all TELs with the oral contraceptive pill (OCP), fluvoxamine and the quinilone antibiotics (with increased triptan levels). An important but complex MAO-A interaction between a metabolite of propranolol and rizatriptan mandates dosage reduction (to 5 mg) for rizatriptan in the presence of propranolol treatment. There is also an absolute contraindication for the concurrent administration of the MAO-A inhibitor moclobemide and rizatriptan. All the new-marketed TELs have potential clinical benefits and were well-tolerated relative to sumatriptan. Both rizatriptan (10 mg) and zolmitriptan (2.5 mg and 5 mg) demonstrate at least equivalent efficacy to sumatriptan 25, 50 and 100 mg, respectively, making them suitable first line agents for moderate or severe migraine headaches. Rizatriptan has the fastest onset of effect of the TELs. Naratriptan would appear to have lower recurrent headache rate than sumatriptan, rizatriptan or zolmitriptan. Therefore, for headaches of long duration and with a tendency to recur naratriptan may be the most appropriate treatment. Thus, knowledge of the metabolic, pharmacokinetic and clinical profiles of the TELs facilitates the selection of a triptan which allows optimisation of the clinical benefits for individual patients, minimising the risk of drug interactions and a minimally effective dose to reduce potential adverse events (AEs).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1B
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1D
  • Receptors, Serotonin / drug effects*
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / pharmacokinetics
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use*


  • HTR1B protein, human
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1B
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1D
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists