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Clinical Experience With Substance P Receptor (NK1) Antagonists in Depression

J Clin Psychiatry 2002;63(suppl 11):25-29

Substance P (SP) belongs to the neurokinin (NK) family of neuropeptides and exerts its biological effects via interaction with the NK1 receptor. The SP-NK1 receptor system is one of the best-characterized neurotransmitter pathways in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. It has been postulated that this pathway may have important roles in a variety of centrally regulated pathophysiologic conditions, including depression. In animal models, central injection of SP was associated with a series of anxiety-like behaviors, and this response could be abolished by pretreatment with SP (NK1) receptor antagonists (SPAs). On the basis of these and other encouraging preclinical results, several clinical trials have examined the potential of SPAs in the treatment of depression. In phase 2 trials, therapy with the SPAs aprepitant (MK-0869) and compound A resulted in improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms that were quantitatively comparable with those seen with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and significantly greater than those seen with placebo. These positive results have established a proof of concept that the inhibition of the SP-NK1 receptor pathway may be a potentially useful novel treatment option for management of patients with depression. The apparent lack of benefit with SPAs versus placebo in subsequent dose-finding studies with aprepitant and compound A is not surprising, considering the fact that the outcomes with an active control (SSRI) in these trials were also similar to those observed with placebo. Future trials with SPAs will focus on the identification of appropriate patients and drug regimens and will also define the role of these agents in the treatment of depression.