Scientists have been exploring the connection between tricyclic antidepressants and brain cancer since the early 2000s. There’s some evidence that the drugs can lower one’s risk for developing aggressive glioblastomas, but when given to patients after diagnosis in a small clinical trial, the antidepressants showed no effect as a treatment.
In a study appearing in Cancer Cell, Swiss researchers find that antidepressants work against brain cancer by excessively increasing tumor autophagy (a process that causes the cancer cells to eat themselves). The scientists next combined the antidepressants with blood thinners-also known to increase autophagy-as a treatment for mice with the first stages of human glioblastoma. Mouse lifespan doubled with the drug combination therapy, while either drug alone had no effect.
An image showing an analysis of cell viability of equal numbers of human glioblastoma cells plated in a six-well cell culture dish, determined by crystal violet staining for live cells. The cells were treated for three days with a TCA (imipramine), the anti-coagulant (ticlopidine) or the combination of two, at two different concentrations. The purple color reflects millions of live cancer cells in a well, whereas the clearing and lack of purple stain is indicative of impaired proliferation and survival (cell death) of the glioblastoma cancer cells
Image courtesy of Douglas Hanahan