A review of serotonin toxicity data: implications for the mechanisms of antidepressant drug action

Biol Psychiatry. 2006 Jun 1;59(11):1046-51. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2005.11.016. Epub 2006 Feb 7.


Data now exist from which an accurate definition for serotonin toxicity (ST), or serotonin syndrome, has been developed; this has also lead to precise, validated decision rules for diagnosis. The spectrum concept formulates ST as a continuum of serotonergic effects, mediated by the degree of elevation of intrasynaptic serotonin. This progresses from side effects through to toxicity; the concept emphasizes that it is a form of poisoning, not an idiosyncratic reaction. Observations of the degree of ST precipitated by overdoses of different classes of drugs can elucidate mechanisms and potency of drug actions. There is now sufficient pharmacological data on some drugs to enable a prediction of which ones will be at risk of precipitating ST, either by themselves or in combinations with other drugs. This indicates that some antidepressant drugs, presently thought to have serotonergic effects in animals, do not exhibit such effects in humans. Mirtazapine is unable to precipitate serotonin toxicity in overdose or to cause serotonin toxicity when mixed with monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and moclobemide is unable to precipitate serotonin toxicity in overdose. Tricyclic antidepressants (other than clomipramine and imipramine) do not precipitate serotonin toxicity and might not elevate serotonin or have a dual action, as has been assumed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Antidepressive Agents / poisoning*
  • Antidepressive Agents / toxicity*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Rats
  • Risk Assessment
  • Serotonin Syndrome / chemically induced*
  • Serotonin Syndrome / prevention & control*


  • Antidepressive Agents