Easing Pain, Safely: Antidepressant’s Promise for Neuropathic Pain Relief

Summary: Neuropathic pain, impacting an estimated 10% of the global population, could be tackled more safely and effectively with the atypical antidepressant tianeptine.

Researchers found that tianeptine offers rapid, long-lasting relief from pain with a lower risk of addiction. The medication’s potent effects reportedly persist even after the drug is no longer present in the body, suggesting that it impacts pain-related genes.

Despite not being approved in the U.S. due to its interaction with opioid receptors, the researchers argue for its potential given its superior efficacy and reduced abuse potential compared to opioids.

Key Facts:

  1. Neuropathic pain, resulting from conditions like diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, affects around 10% of people worldwide.
  2. Tianeptine, an atypical antidepressant, provides rapid, long-lasting relief from neuropathic pain with a lower risk of addiction.
  3. The study suggests that tianeptine’s therapeutic effects are linked to its impact on the expression of pain-related genes, and it begins working faster than other antidepressants.

Source: Boston University

Neuropathic pain is a debilitating condition estimated to affect as much as 10% of the global population. It results from a damaged or malfunctioning nervous system, stemming from diseases like diabetes, alcoholism, strokes, Parkinson’s and other causes like spinal nerve compression, radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Management of neuropathic pain has been particularly challenging as currently prescribed drugs, such as anticonvulsants and antidepressants can have severe adverse effects, are not well-tolerated, take a longer time to work only help a subset of patients. Opioids come with the risk of physical dependence and addiction.

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The researchers also found that tianeptine started working more quickly than other antidepressants. Credit: Neuroscience News

Researchers from Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine in collaboration with the Icahn School of Medicine, Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute used experimental models to explore the cellular actions of tianeptine and provide insight for the development of more effective and safer treatments of neuropathic pain conditions.

In a study published today in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology the investigators report that the atypical antidepressant tianeptine potentially provides rapid and lasting pain relief with a low risk of addiction.

“We hope this revives the potential of using tianeptine for the treatment of chronic pain and associated conditions, such as anxiety and depression,” said Venetia Zachariou, PhD, corresponding author of the study and professor and Edward Avedisian Chair of Pharmacology, Physiology & Biophysics at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine.

“By further refining this molecule, we could arrive at a pain treatment that is more effective, fast acting, and has a mild side effect profile.

Researchers used experimental models to investigate the persistent mechanical allodynia that is associated with damaged sciatic nerve, comparing the therapeutic profiles of tianeptine to that of the antidepressant desipramine.

To better understand the mechanisms underlying the drug’s effects, the investigators used RNA sequencing, to monitor gene expression changes in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region involved in motivation, addiction, and pain perception to identify pain-related genes that tianeptine treatment counteracts.

The results showed that tianeptine had profound pain-relieving properties that lasted well after the drug was no longer present, which suggested it was the drug affected the expression of genes that were critical for the maintenance of pain symptoms.

The researchers also found that tianeptine started working more quickly than other antidepressants.

Tianeptine is prescribed in some European, Asian and Latin American countries in low doses to treat depression, and in higher doses for asthma, anxiety and other conditions. Since tianeptine actions require endogenous opioid receptors; U.S. regulators have not approved it for use here.

“Several studies have shown that the abuse potential of tianeptine is substantially lower than other currently abused opioids such as oxycodone.

“Furthermore, also based on prior studies, tianeptine does not appear to cause tolerance, so the dose does not need to be increased drastically over time as we see with opioids, which contributes to physical dependance and addiction,” said Zachariou and Alex Serafini, PhD, a postdoc in BU’s pharmacology, physiology & biophysics department and first author of the paper.

“The data from this study contributes to a much larger set of data supporting the use of this drug for conditions such as chronic pain.”

About this pain and neuropharmacology research news

Author: Gina DiGravio
Source: Boston University
Contact: Gina DiGravio – Boston University
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Tianeptine promotes lasting antiallodynic effects in a mouse model of neuropathic pain” by Venetia Zachariou et al. Neuropsychopharmacology


Tianeptine promotes lasting antiallodynic effects in a mouse model of neuropathic pain

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as desipramine (DMI), are effective at managing neuropathic pain symptoms but often take several weeks to become effective and also lead to considerable side effects.

Tianeptine (TIAN) is an atypical antidepressant that activates the mu-opioid receptor but does not produce analgesic tolerance or withdrawal in mice, nor euphoria in humans, at clinically-relevant doses.

Here, we evaluate the efficacy of TIAN at persistently alleviating mechanical allodynia in the spared nerve injury (SNI) model of neuropathic pain, even well after drug clearance.

After finding an accelerated onset of antiallodynic action compared to DMI, we used genetically modified mice to gain insight into RGS protein-associated pathways that modulate the efficacy of TIAN relative to DMI in models of neuropathic pain.

Because we observed similar behavioral responses to both TIAN and DMI treatment in RGS4, RGSz1, and RGS9 knockout mice, we performed RNA sequencing on the NAc of TIAN- and DMI-treated mice after prolonged SNI to further clarify potential mechanisms underlying TIANs faster therapeutic actions.

Our bioinformatic analysis revealed distinct transcriptomic signatures between the two drugs, with TIAN more directly reversing SNI-induced differentially expressed genes, and further predicted several upstream regulators that may be implicated in onset of action.

This new understanding of the molecular pathways underlying TIAN action may enable the development of novel and more efficacious pharmacological approaches for the management of neuropathic pain.

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