Further strategies for treating fibromyalgia: the role of serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors

Am J Med. 2009 Dec;122(12 Suppl):S44-55. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2009.09.010.


Fibromyalgia and associated conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and temporomandibular disorder involve dysfunctions in central sensitization and pain modulation. Central nervous system dysfunction may also contribute to other symptoms characteristic of fibromyalgia, such as fatigue and sleep disturbance. Two key neurotransmitters in the pain modulation pathway are serotonin and norepinephrine. Preclinical studies using animal models of chronic pain have shown that pharmacologic agents that combine serotonergic and noradrenergic reuptake inhibition, thus augmenting the function of these neurotransmitters, have stronger analgesic effects than agents that inhibit reuptake of either neurotransmitter alone. Although tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) inhibit reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine and have shown efficacy for the treatment of fibromyalgia, long-term use of these drugs is limited owing to poor tolerability. Unlike TCAs, the newer dual reuptake inhibitors of serotonin and norepinephrine, such as the drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for fibromyalgia, milnacipran and duloxetine, do not possess significant affinity for other neurotransmitter systems, resulting in diminished side effects and enhanced tolerability. Both duloxetine and milnacipran have shown efficacy in clinical trials by improving pain and other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. Both compounds inhibit the serotonin and norepinephrine transporters; however, there is a difference in their affinities and selectivity for these transporters. Although duloxetine has affinity for both receptors, it is somewhat more selective for the serotonin transporter. In contrast, milnacipran is somewhat more selective for norepinephrine than serotonin reuptake inhibition. Pharmacologic agents that specifically target serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake may prove to be valuable tools in the treatment of fibromyalgia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fibromyalgia / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Norepinephrine / physiology*
  • Pain Management
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Serotonin / physiology


  • Analgesics
  • Neurotransmitter Uptake Inhibitors
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Serotonin
  • Norepinephrine