Open Access Open Badges Research article

Pharmacological challenge with a serotonin 1D agonist in alcohol dependence

Bavanisha Vythilingum1*, Charmaine J Hugo1, J Stefan Maritz3, Willie Pienaar2 and Dan J Stein1

  • * Corresponding author: Bavanisha Vythilingum

Author Affiliations

1 MRC Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders, Dept of Psychiatry University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

2 Dept of Psychiatry, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

3 Biostatistics Unit, Medical Research Council of South Africa

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BMC Psychiatry 2005, 5:31  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-5-31

Published: 24 August 2005



Both animal and clinical studies have implicated serotonergic dysfunction in the pathogenesis of alcohol abuse and dependence. However the exact mechanisms involved remain unknown. Theoretically, low serotonin promotes alcohol seeking behavior. Sumatriptan is a serotonin1D agonist. It is postulated that sumatriptan's agonism at this terminal autoreceptor increases negative feedback, creating a net effect of decreased serotonergic neurotransmission. Administration of sumatriptan should therefore produce a craving for alcohol and the desire to drink.


Fifteen patients with alcohol dependence who had undergone detoxification were recruited. Sumatriptan (100 mg) and placebo was administered in cross-over fashion on 2 separate days 72 hours apart. Both patients and raters were blind to all treatments.

Patients were assessed on the following scales at -30, 0, 30, 90, 150 and 210 minutes: A 6-item scale designed to rate the patient's intention to drink; The Sensation Scale; a 13-item affect analog scale designed to rate the pattern and extent of emotional changes; and an 8-item scale designed to rate the patient's craving for alcohol


No significant differences were found between the placebo and sumatriptan groups and no significant cross over effects were found.


The general lack of efficacy of sumatriptan in producing alcohol-like symptoms or a desire to drink alcohol may suggest that the 5HT1D receptor plays little role in the pathophysiology of alcoholism.