Antidepressants in the treatment of neuropathic pain

Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2005 Jun;96(6):399-409. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-7843.2005.pto_96696601.x.


Neuropathic pain is due to lesion or dysfunction of the peripheral or central nervous system. Tricyclic antidepressants and anticonvulsants have long been the mainstay of treatment of this type of pain. Tricyclic antidepressants may relieve neuropathic pain by their unique ability to inhibit presynaptic reuptake of the biogenic amines serotonin and noradrenaline, but other mechanisms such as N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor and ion channel blockade probably also play a role in their pain-relieving effect. The effect of tricyclic antidepressants in neuropathic pain in man has been demonstrated in numerous randomised, controlled trials, and a few trials have shown that serotonin noradrenaline and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants also relieve neuropathic pain although with lower efficacy. Tricyclic antidepressants will relieve one in every 2-3 patients with peripheral neuropathic pain, serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors one in every 4-5 and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors one in every 7 patients. Thus, based on efficacy measures such as numbers needed to treat, tricyclic antidepressants tend to work better than the anticonvulsant gabapentin and treatment options such as tramadol and oxycodone, whereas the serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor venlafaxine appears to be equally effective with these drugs and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors apparently have lower efficacy. Head-to-head comparisons between antidepressants and the other analgesics are lacking. Contraindications towards the use of tricyclic antidepressants and low tolerability in general of this drug class--may among the antidepressants--favour the use of the serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors. A recent study on bupropion, which is a noradrenaline and dopamine uptake inhibitor, indicated a surprisingly high efficacy of this drug in peripheral neuropathic pain. In conclusion, antidepressants represent useful tools in neuropathic pain treatment and must still be considered as first line treatments of neuropathic pain. However, without head-to-head comparisons between antidepressants and other analgesics, it is not possible to provide real evidence-based treatment algorithms for neuropathic pain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / pharmacology*
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / adverse effects
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / pharmacology*
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Neuralgia / drug therapy*
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors