The Chemistry of Prozac

Dr Simon Cotton podcast for The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC):

The 19thcentury American poet Emily Dickinson could well have been writing about depression from her own experience; sadly there were no medicines to treat it. It is only since the second world war that antidepressant molecules have been available. The effects of amphetamines on mood had been discovered in the 1930s. They were widely used during the second world war to improve alertness, and their use (and abuse) continued afterwards; into the 1960s medicines like Drinamyl (a combination of dextroamphetamine and Amobarbital) were seen as innocuous medications, which they were not.

The Chemistry of Prozac

The first specific antidepressants were hit upon accidentally. A drug named imipramine which was unsuccessful as a treatment for schizophrenics proved ideal for people suffering from depression. It came to the market in 1958 as Tofranil and was rapidly followed by other molecules with similar structures based on three rings of atoms, they became known as tricyclic antidepressants or TCAs. A second class of drug became known as monoamine-oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs. The first of these, iproniazid, had proved unsuccessful in the treatment of tuberculosis, but it was noticed that patients given it exhibited much improved moods. Both these drugs were successful in treating many cases of depression, but both suffered from side-effects. We can understand why if we know how neurons communicate.

Read the full article on the RSC site or download the podcast (mp3 - 3 MB)


Podcast credited to the The Royal Society of Chemistry