Sex-related differences in nortriptyline-induced side-effects among depressed patients

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2001 Jul;25(5):1035-48. doi: 10.1016/s0278-5846(01)00175-0.


1. Men and women may differ in their pharmacokinetic responses to tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), in a number of autonomic indices, and in various adrenergic receptor mediated responses. Emerging evidence also suggests that women may have a lower rate of serotonin synthesis in brain and a greater sensitivity to the depressant effects of tryptophan depletion, relative to men. However, sex-related differences in TCA-induced side-effects, including increases in heart rate (HR), dry mouth, constipation, and difficulty urinating, has not been systematically investigated. 2. The authors examined potential sex-related differences in the pattern of side-effects during treatment with nortriptyline (NT), a TCA that is still widely used. Seventy-eight healthy outpatients who met Research Diagnostic Criteria and DSM-III-R criteria for major depression participated in a double-blind, randomized parallel trial of NT versus placebo. 3. Each subject was acutely challenged with either placebo or 50 mg NT prior to and after a 6-week treatment with NT. NT doses were adjusted weekly to maintain therapeutic plasma levels. Patients were assessed at multiple time points to detect the presence of NT-induced side-effects. 4. The initial, single (50 mg) dose of NT significantly increased supine HR. Six-week treatment with NT was found to significantly increase supine and sitting HRs, irrespective of sex. In rechallenge with the single NT dose, there were no significant effects on HR. 5. When sex-related differences were examined, HR increases were greater in men than women during weeks 4 through 6 of the NT treatment, although no sex-related differences were present in plasma NT levels or metabolites. In addition, there was a significant NT to placebo difference in self-rated dry mouth for women during all 6-weeks of treatment, whereas men showed a significant NT-placebo difference during weeks 3 and 5. 6. The results suggest the presence of sex-related differences in elevated supine HR response during the course of 6-week NT treatment. Depressed men may be more susceptible to NT-induced increases in supine HR than women.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / adverse effects*
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Constipation / chemically induced*
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nortriptyline / adverse effects*
  • Nortriptyline / therapeutic use
  • Placebos
  • Posture
  • Sex Factors
  • Urination Disorders / chemically induced*


  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Placebos
  • Nortriptyline