Background: Brain serotonin is known to possess sympathoinhibitory properties. The aim of this clinical physiologic study was to determine whether sertraline, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, facilitates the rate of recovery of cardiac autonomic function after an acute myocardial infarction (MI) in patients with depression.
Methods and results: Thirty-eight post-MI depressed patients were randomized to receive either sertraline 50 mg per day or placebo for 6 months. Depression was defined as a score >15 on the standardized Inventory to Diagnose Depression questionnaire taken at prehospital discharge and again within 2 weeks of the acute infarct. Eleven stable post-MI nondepressed patients served as a nonrandomized reference group during follow-up. Twenty-seven patients completed the randomization. All 3 groups were followed up closely in a multidisciplinary post-MI clinic where they underwent serial testing for both time and frequency domain heart rate variability (HRV) indices at baseline (1-2 weeks after MI) and at 6, 10, 14, 18, and 22 weeks. The rate of recovery of HRV was determined by use of a growth curve model based on repeated-measures analysis of variance. There was a linear rate of increase in the SD of 24-hour N-N intervals (SDNN) in the sertraline-treated group that paralleled that of the nondepressed reference group. This contrasted with a modest but significant decline in SDNN in the placebo group from 2 to 22 weeks (t = 2.10, P <.05). However, the short-term power spectral indices, while trending toward a more rapid rate of recovery in the treated group, did not reach statistical significance compared with the placebo group.
Conclusion: In depressed patients who have survived the acute phase of an MI sertraline facilitates the rate of recovery of SDNN, a recognized predictor of clinical outcome.