Prozac, which is commonly used as an anti-depressant, may be useful in limiting disease activity in multiple sclerosis (MS), according to new research.
In the study, 40 patients with the relapsing remitting form of MS were randomly treated with either 20 mg daily of fluoxetine (Prozac) or an inactive substance (placebo) for a period of 24 weeks. A total of 38 patients-19 in each group-completed the study.
The researchers used detailed brain scans (magnetic resonance images or MRI) every four weeks in order to check for new areas of neurological inflammation, indicating active disease, reports the British Medical Journal.
The scans revealed that those in the placebo group had more new areas of inflammation than those treated with Prozac. The effects were significant after eight weeks, indicating the time taken by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class of drugs, of which Prozac is one, to start work on relieving depression.
The results indicated that the average number of new areas affected was more than five in the group given the placebo in comparison with just under two in the group given Prozac. Also, 25 percent of the scans from patients treated with Prozac showed new areas of inflammation as against 40 percent of those taking placebo.
In the last 16 weeks of treatment, almost two thirds of patients (63pct) in the group given Prozac did not have any new areas of inflammation compared with only one in four (26pct) in the group given placebo.
While the authors warned that their study was small, and larger studies would be needed before firm conclusions could be drawn, they did conclude that their results are "sufficiently encouraging to justify further studies with fluoxetine in patients with MS," adding that higher doses and treatment combinations with other drugs that alter the immune response, should be considered.
The study is published ahead of print in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.