Anxiety levels could be reduced within just three hours by a single high dose of a common antidepressant.
A study has been conducted into the impact of two antidepressants, citalopram and reboxetine, which work on the serotonin and noradrenaline neurotransmitters in the brain that control mood.
The work was carried out at the University of Oxford by Dr Susannah Murphy, a neuroscientist at the Psychopharmacology and Emotion Research Laboratory.
Her research was shared at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ International Congress in Edinburgh.
A total of 42 healthy patients were given either one of the two drugs or a placebo as part of the study. They were then shown a picture with two faces on it – one with a neutral expression and the other looking fearful. The speed with which the volunteers reacted to the images was then measured by the researchers.
Anxiety is linked to ‘hypervigilance’, and the faster the reaction the more anxious and concerned about a perceived threat a person is. Dr Murphy and her colleagues found that both citalopram and reboxetine reduced their vigilance to fearful facial expressions.
The antidepressants could be used both in the short- and long-term to enhance psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, she told to delegates at the International Congress.
She said: “It’s quite extraordinary that these changes take place so early. It really challenges us to think quite differently about the way antidepressants work. It’s a different message for patients – as soon as you start taking the drugs it starts changing the way the brain works. It doesn’t have to take weeks.”
Copyright Press Association 2010
University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry