Desipramine relieves postherpetic neuralgia

Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1990 Mar;47(3):305-12. doi: 10.1038/clpt.1990.33.


Desipramine has the least anticholinergic and sedative effects of the first generation tricyclic antidepressant agents, but its pain-relieving potential has received little study. Other antidepressant agents--notably amitriptyline--are known to ameliorate postherpetic neuralgia, but those agents are often toxic. In a randomized double-blind crossover design, we gave 26 postherpetic neuralgia patients 6 weeks of treatment with desipramine (mean dose, 167 mg/day) and placebo. Nineteen patients completed both treatments; 12 reported at least moderate relief with desipramine and two reported relief with placebo. Pain relief with desipramine was statistically significant from weeks 3 to 6. Psychiatric interview at entry into the study produced a diagnosis of depression for 4 patients; pain relief was similar in depressed and nondepressed patients and was statistically significant in the nondepressed group alone. We conclude that desipramine administration relieves postherpetic neuralgia and that pain relief is not mediated by mood elevation. Blockade of norepinephrine reuptake, an action shared by desipramine, amitriptyline, and other antidepressant agents that have relieved neuropathic pain, may be involved in relief of postherpetic neuralgia.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Desipramine / administration & dosage
  • Desipramine / adverse effects
  • Desipramine / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Herpes Zoster / complications*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuralgia / drug therapy*
  • Neuralgia / etiology
  • Neuralgia / physiopathology
  • Pain Measurement / drug effects


  • Desipramine