Study to assess heart effects of depression drugs during stress

CHAPEL HILL -- A new study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will look at the effects of antidepressant drugs on the heart's response to stress.

"We know that people who are depressed early in life develop cardiovascular complications later on," said Patricia Straneva, graduate student in psychology at UNC. "We also know that cardiac patients with depression are more likely to die from their heart disease than non-depressed patients. But we don't really know why there is such a strong relationship between heart disease and depression, primarily because we don't really know what the mechanism is that causes depression in the first place. However, we do know that people who are depressed have significantly elevated levels of stress hormones.

At the university's Stress and Health Research Program, heading the study with Straneva is Susan Girdler, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at UNC-CH School of Medicine. She said their project focuses on two widely used anti-depressants -- bupropion and paroxetine.

"These drugs are known to affect different physiological systems in the body. If we find that one of them influences cardiovascular stress responses differently than the other, then the study results may have special implications for the treatment of heart patients with depression."

Wellbutrin works against depression by potentiating the body's noradrenergic mechanisms, including release of the hormone norepinephrine. Paroxetine is in a class of antidepressants that enhance the availability of serotonin in the brain. Both norepinephrine and serotonin influence mood and the cardiovascular system.

The study will test two categories of volunteer participants: (1) individuals with no current or past history of any psychiatric disorder and (2) individuals currently under treatment for depression with either bupropion or paroxetine. Participants in the second group will have been taking their antidepressant for at least two mo

Contact: Leslie H. Lang
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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