Fluoxetine is a new antidepressant which enhances serotoninergic neurotransmission through potent and selective inhibition of neuronal reuptake of serotonin. Metabolism by N-desmethylation occurs in man yielding desmethylfluoxetine, which also inhibits serotonin reuptake. Both the parent compound and metabolite possess elimination half-lives of several days facilitating the maintenance of steady-state plasma concentrations during long term treatment. Fluoxetine has overall therapeutic efficacy comparable with imipramine, amitriptyline and doxepin in patients with unipolar depression treated for 5 to 6 weeks, although it may be less effective than tricyclic antidepressants in relieving sleep disorders in depressed patients. Geriatric patients also responded as well to fluoxetine as to doxepin. The symptomatic improvement in patients with unipolar depression during short term fluoxetine treatment has been satisfactorily maintained when therapy was extended for at least 6 months: the relapse rate was low and similar to that of imipramine. Preliminary data have shown that patients with bipolar depression gained similar therapeutic benefit from fluoxetine or imipramine. Other preliminary trials have indicated that fluoxetine may be useful in obsessive-compulsive disorders. Usual doses of fluoxetine cause significantly fewer anticholinergic-type side effects than tricyclic antidepressants. Nausea, nervousness and insomnia are the most frequently reported fluoxetine-related adverse effects, but these have usually not been severe. Therapeutic doses of fluoxetine do not affect cardiac conduction intervals in patients without pre-existing cardiovascular disease and fluoxetine has been relatively safe in the small number of patients who have taken overdoses. It has not been clearly established whether some types of depression may respond more readily to fluoxetine than other antidepressants, and its overall therapeutic efficacy has not been compared with other second generation antidepressants. Thus, with its different and perhaps improved side effect profile compared with older tricyclic antidepressants, fluoxetine offers properties that could be used to advantage in many patients with depression.