Clinical Pharmacokinetics

, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 454–471 | Cite as

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and CNS Drug Interactions

A Critical Review of the Evidence
  • Beth A. Sproule
  • Claudio A. Naranjo
  • Karen E. Bremner
  • Paul C. Hassan
Review Article Drug Interactions


The potential for drug-drug interactions in psychiatric patients is very high as combination psychopharmacotherapy is used to treat comorbid psychiatric disorders, to treat the adverse effects of a medication, to augment a medication effect or to treat concomitant medical illnesses. Interactions can be pharmacodynamic or pharmacokinetic in nature. This paper focuses on the metabolic kinetic interactions between selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other central nervous system (CNS) drugs. The evidence for and clinical significance of these interactions are reviewed, with special emphasis on antipsychotics, tricyclic anti-depressants and benzodiazepines.

Many psychotropic medications have an affinity for the cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes which promote elimination by transforming lipid soluble substances into more polar compounds. SSRIs serve both as substrates and inhibitors of these enzymes. In vitro studies provide a screening method for evaluating drug affinities for substrates, inhibitors or inducers of CYP enzymes. Although in vitro data are important as a starting point for predicting these metabolic kinetic drug interactions, case reports and controlled experimental studies in humans are required to fully evaluate their clinical significance. Several factors must be considered when evaluating the clinical significance of a potential interaction including: (a) the nature of each drugs’ activity at an enzyme site (substrate, inhibitor or inducer); (b) the potency estimations for the inhibitor/inducer; (c) the concentration of the inhibitor/inducer at the enzyme site; (d) the saturability of the enzyme; (e) the extent of metabolism of the substrate through this enzyme (versus alternative metabolic routes); (f) the presence of active metabolites of the substrate; (g) the therapeutic window of the substrate; (h) the inherent enzyme activity of the individual, phenotyping/genotyping information; (i) the level of risk of the individual experiencing adverse effects (e.g. the elderly) and (j) from an epidemiological perspective, the probability of concurrent use.

This paper systematically reviews both the in vitro and in vivo evidence for drug interactions between SSRIs and other CNS drugs. As potent inhibitors of CYP2D6, both paroxetine and fluoxetine have the potential to increase the plasma concentrations of antipsychotic medications metabolised through this enzyme, including perphenazine, haloperidol, thioridazine and risperidone in patients who are CYP2D6 extensive metabolisers. Controlled studies have demonstrated this for perphenazine with paroxetine and haloperidol with fluoxetine. Fluvoxamine, as a potent inhibitor of CYP1A2, can inhibit the metabolism of clozapine, resulting in higher plasma concentrations.

Drug interactions between the SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) can occur. Fluoxetine and paroxetine, as potent inhibitors of CYP2D6, can increase the plasma concentrations of secondary and tertiary tricyclic antidepressants. Sertraline and citalopram are less likely to have this effect. Fluvoxamine can increase the plasma concentrations of tertiary TCAs.

Fluvoxamine inhibits, via CYP3A, CYP2C19 and CYP1A2, the metabolism of several benzodiazepines, including alprazolam, bromazepam and diazepam. Fluoxetine increases the plasma concentrations of alprazolam and diazepam by inhibiting CYP3A and CYP2C19, respectively. The clinical importance of the interaction with diazepam is attenuated by the presence of its active metabolite. Sertraline inhibits these enzymes only mildly to moderately at usual therapeutic doses. Therefore the potential for interactions is less; however, the in vivo evidence is minimal. Paroxetine and citalopram are unlikely to cause interactions with benzodiazepines.

The evidence is conflicting for an interaction between carbamazepine and the SSRIs fluoxetine and fluvoxamine. These combinations should be used cautiously, and be accompanied by monitoring for adverse events and carbamazepine plasma concentrations. A lack of interaction between paroxetine or sertraline and carbamazepine has been documented.

The SSRIs are not equivalent in their potential for drug interactions when combined with other CNS medications. Each combination must be assessed individually. Several factors must be considered when predicting the outcome of a potential interaction based on in vitro data (e.g. active metabolites and concentration ranges). In vivo studies are required to evaluate their clinical significance. Generally, sertraline and citalopram at the lower therapeutic dosage range appear to have less propensity for interactions. Anticipated pharmacokinetic interactions can usually be managed with careful monitoring and appropriate adjustments in dosage and titration.


Adis International Limited Carbamazepine Haloperidol Clozapine Fluoxetine 
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Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Beth A. Sproule
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Claudio A. Naranjo
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Karen E. Bremner
    • 1
    • 4
  • Paul C. Hassan
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychopharmacology Research ProgramSunnybrook Health Science CentreTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of PharmacyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Department of PharmacologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  5. 5.Department of MedicineUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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