Article Text


5-HT: the story so far
  1. Mike Starr, Reader in Neuroscience
  1. Dept of Pharmacology, School of Pharmacy, University of London, 29 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AX


    Serotonin (5-HT) has recently aroused great interest and has been linked to a number of therapeutic actions of acupuncture. It was originally discovered about 45 years ago to have a vasoconstrictor effect in the clotting mechanism, but is now known to be involved in numerous body processes including the modulation of a number of anterior pituitary hormones. Multiple 5-HT receptors have been identified and drugs with specific receptor action are being developed.

    Sumatripan is a 5-HT1 stimulator which has a vasoconstrictive effect, relieving migraine headaches. Ondansetron is a blocker of 5-HT3 receptors in the gut, thus being a very effective antiemetic in oncology treatment. Fluoxetine prevents 5-HT reuptake and thus has an antidepressant effect.

    As well as being endorphin mediated, the analgesic action of acupuncture has been shown to rely partly on 5-HT release: notably from nerves electrically stimulated at 200Hz. Acupuncture is a potent antiemetic, possibly acting by the same mechanism as ondansetron. It also has antidepressant action, perhaps through altering 5-HT mobilisation in the brain. Even the treatment of drug withdrawal symptoms by electroacupuncture may be by restabilising 5-HT at a normal level.

    Statistics from

    Request Permissions

    If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.