Anorectic drugs and pulmonary hypertension from the bedside to the bench

Evangelos D. Michelakis, E. Kenneth Weir

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50 Scopus citations


Anorectic drugs have been used for more than 30 years as an aid in weight reduction for obese persons. The use of aminorex, an amphetamine analog that increases norepinephrine levels in the central nervous system, led to an epidemic of primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH) in Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The use of fenfluramine and later dexfenfluramine [drugs that inhibit 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) release and reuptake and increases 5-HT and thus 5-HT secretion in the brain] was associated with a second epidemic of PPH. All of these drugs have been voluntarily withdrawn from the market. The pathogenesis of PPH in patients treated with these agents is uncertain, but recent evidence suggests that potassium channel abnormalities and vasoactive and proliferative properties of 5-HT may play a role. There is increasing experimental evidence suggesting that aminorex, fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine inhibit 4-aminopyridine-sensitive currents in potassium channels resulting in vasoconstriction in pulmonary resistance vessels and perhaps smooth muscle cell proliferation. 5-HT causes pulmonary artery vasoconstriction and smooth muscle cell proliferation. Its levels are known to be high in those with fenfluramine-induced PPH. However, a firm cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been established. One potentially beneficial effect of the epidemics of anorectic-related PPH is that it may have provided important insights into the causes of PPH unrelated to anorectic agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)292-299
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of the Medical Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
EDM is supported by the Alberta Heritage Foundation, Alberta Lung Association, and American Heart Association (Minnesota affiliate). EKW is supported by a VA grant and the American Heart Association (Minnesota affiliate).


  • 5-Hydroxytryptamine
  • Aminorex
  • Dexfenfluramine
  • Fenfluramine
  • Kv channels
  • Primary pulmonary hypertension


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