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NIMH Researchers Discover Medication’s Antidepressant Potential

Science Update

A commonly used sedative and motion-sickness treatment shows promise as a fast-acting antidepressant, according to a study conducted by researchers at NIMH. Patients with major depression or bipolar disorder who had predominantly poor prognoses improved dramatically, showing significant decreases in symptoms associated with depression and anxiety almost immediately after being treated with the medication. Maura L. Furey and Wayne C. Drevets of NIMH's Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program report on these findings in the October 2006 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

In two studies, NIMH researchers discovered the antidepressant and anti-anxiety efficacy of the medication, scopolamine (Scopace®). Study participants treated with scopolamine showed significant reductions in the severity of their depression and anxiety symptoms shortly after receiving a single intravenous dose. This reduction in symptoms persisted after treatment, which suggests scopolamine may have strong, fast, long-lasting antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects. According to the researchers, patients in the studies tolerated scopolamine well and reported no serious medical adverse outcomes.

Given that antidepressant treatments currently on the market may take at least three weeks to show such reductions in depression symptoms in patients and tend to be ineffective in approximately one in three patients,1 these findings are significant; they may help scientists develop robust, fast-acting, alternative antidepressant and anti-anxiety treatments. Currently Furey and colleagues at the NIMH are looking for practical ways to administer scopolamine to patients.

For more information about scopolamine and treating depression and bipolar disorder, please visit:

Furey ML, Drevets WC. Antidepressant Efficacy of the Antimuscarinic Drug Scopolamine . Archives of General Psychiatry, Oct. 2006;63:1121-1129.

1 Sackeim HA. The definition and meaning of treatment-resistant depression. J Clin Psychiatry. 2001;62 Suppl 16:10-17.