The popular antidepressant fluoxetine, more commonly known by its brand name Prozac, may have another widespread medical use. A recent study found that the drug has antiviral properties, and it could be used to fight deadly diseases.
Fluoxetine appears to be an inhibitor of coxsackievirus replication, which means it could stop life-threatening conditions, such as ones in the polio family, from reproducing in the body. It does not affect viral entry or translation of the viral genome, according to the study.
The poliovirus falls into the group of enteroviruses that are serious and can be life-threatening diseases. Although polio is largely unheard of in most countries because of immunizations, other enteroviruses can cause illnesses such as meningitis, encephalitis and conjunctivitis, and there is no known treatment for these diseases.
One news station reports enteroviruses cause an estimated 15 million infections per year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and are second only to the common cold virus.
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers from the Department of Pediatrics, the California NanoSystems Institute and the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology made the unusual discovery about fluoxetine during molecular screening. The study was published on July 2 in the journal of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.
“The discovery of unexpected antiviral activity of fluoxetine is scientifically very significant and draws our attention to previously overlooked potential targets of fluoxetine and other psychogenic drugs,” Robert Damoiseaux, scientific director of the Molecular Screening Shared Resource at the California NanoSystems Institute, said in a press release. “Part of our follow-up work will be the discovery of these unconventional targets for fluoxetine and other drugs of the same class and how these targets intersect with the known targets of this drug class.”
Serious Side Effects of Prozac
Fluoxetine was the first drug to be developed in a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Serotonin is a mood elevator in the brain, and scientists believe a deficit of the natural chemical contributes to depression. Replacing it with an SSRI helps stabilize emotions.
Unfortunately, in the more than two decades that Prozac has been on the market, researchers also have linked SSRIs to many side effects that affect patients’ daily lives and quite a few serious complications. Side effects can include fatigue, weight loss, apathy, insomnia, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, decreased libido and erectile dysfunction.
Among the most severe complications associated with taking fluoxetine are a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children and young adults up to age 24 and, for pregnant women, a host of birth defects, including heart problems and lung defects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has alerted the American public to these complications and requires the drug’s labeling information to carry related warnings.