Mirtazapine is an antidepressant whose side effect profile differs from that of first-line agents (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) used in the treatment of panic disorder. The present study compared the effect of mirtazapine and fluoxetine in the treatment of panic disorder in a double-blind, randomized, flexible-dose trial conducted with outpatients. After a 1-week single-blind placebo run-in, 27 patients entered an 8-week double-blind phase in which they were randomly assigned to treatment with either mirtazapine or fluoxetine. Both groups improved significantly in all but one efficacy measure (P < or = 0.01). ANOVA showed no significant differences between the two treatment groups in number of panic attacks, Hamilton Anxiety Scale or Sheehan Phobic Scale, whereas measures of patient global evaluation of phobic anxiety were significantly different between groups (F1,20 = 6.91, P = 0.016) favoring mirtazapine. For the 22 patients who completed the study, the mean daily dose of mirtazapine was 18.3 +/- 1.3 vs 14.0 +/- 1.0 mg for fluoxetine at the endpoint. Weight gain occurred more frequently in the mirtazapine group (50 vs 7.7%, P = 0.04) and nausea and paresthesia occurred more often in the fluoxetine group (P = 0.01). Results suggest that mirtazapine has properties that make it attractive for the treatment of panic disorder.