Tianeptine is an antidepressant agent with a novel neurochemical profile. It increases serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine; 5-HT) uptake in the brain (in contrast with most antidepressant agents) and reduces stress-induced atrophy of neuronal dendrites. Like the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and in contrast with most tricyclic antidepressant agents, tianeptine does not appear to be associated with adverse cognitive, psychomotor, sleep, cardiovascular or bodyweight effects and has a low propensity for abuse. Tianeptine has a comparatively favourable pharmacokinetic profile. It is not subject to first-pass hepatic metabolism, has high bioavailability and limited distribution, and is rapidly eliminated. While this offers advantages for tianeptine over the tricyclic antidepressant agents in terms of dose titration, treatment changes and potential drug interactions, its rapid elimination makes adherence to dosage schedules more important. Tianeptine differs from most antidepressants in that it is not primarily metabolised by the hepatic cytochrome P450 system, indicating less likelihood of drug-drug interactions; this is of particular interest for elderly patients. Tianeptine, in dosages of 25 to 50 mg/day, has been investigated in patients with major depression, depressed bipolar disorder, dysthymia or adjustment disorder. It has equivalent antidepressant efficacy to several classical antidepressant agents (amitriptyline, clomipramine, imipramine, mianserin) and the SSRIs fluoxetine (in most patients), paroxetine and sertraline. Comparison with maprotiline indicated superior efficacy for tianeptine but dothiepin appeared superior in another study. Extended treatment with tianeptine decreases the incidence of relapse/recurrence of depression. Tianeptine appears to be as effective as fluoxetine, sertraline, amitriptyline, clomipramine and mianserin and more effective than maprotiline in improving associated anxiety in patients with depressive disorders. Depression and anxiety symptoms in alcohol dependant patients also respond well to tianeptine. The adverse effects associated with tianeptine are similar in many respects to those of the SSRIs and minimal in comparison with the tricyclic antidepressants. The most common adverse effects are nausea, constipation, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness and changes in dreaming. Anticholinergic effects occur less often with tianeptine than with tricyclic agents. Hepatoxicity is rare. The dosage should be decreased in elderly patients and those with severe renal failure, but adjustment is not necessary in patients with alcoholism or hepatic impairment, or those undergoing haemodialysis.
Conclusions: The antidepressant efficacy and favourable tolerability and pharmacokinetic profiles of tianeptine in patients with depression, including those with associated anxiety, have been proven; the data indicate that it may have additional potential in specific subgroups of depressed patients such as the elderly and those with chronic alcoholism.