Moclobemide is a reversible and selective inhibitor of the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) subtype A with a broad spectrum of antidepressant activity. Controlled clinical studies suggest that the short term clinical efficacy of moclobemide is significantly superior to that of placebo, and comparable to that of the tricyclic antidepressants clomipramine, amitriptyline, imipramine and desipramine, the irreversible MAO inhibitor tranylcypromine and the second-generation antidepressants maprotiline, mianserin and fluvoxamine in the treatment of major depressive illness. Moclobemide appears to be equally effective in endogenous and nonendogenous depression, producing marked amelioration of clinical features of psychomotor retardation and depressed mood. Moclobemide is well tolerated, being largely devoid of the anticholinergic adverse effects, symptomatic postural hypotension and weight gain variously associated with the tricyclic antidepressants and irreversible MAO inhibitors, and appears considerably safer on overdosage than the tricyclic and second generation antidepressants. Moreover, moclobemide offers the advantage over the older, irreversible MAO inhibitors of causing only minimal potentiation of the pressor response to dietary tyramine (the so-called 'cheese effect'). Consequently, the risk of potentially fatal hypertensive crisis, a major deterrent to the wider acceptance of these earlier compounds, is substantially reduced with moclobemide, and the need for dietary precautions is minimised. With its efficacy against endogenous and nonendogenous depression, relatively rapid onset of antidepressant activity, and absence of carry-over effects on treatment withdrawal, moclobemide is likely to make an important contribution to the treatment of major depressive illness. Its favourable tolerability profile, safety on overdosage and beneficial effect on age-related cognitive impairment may be of particular value in the elderly and those with concurrent physical illness.