Fenfluramine is a drug that was part of the Fen/Phen anti-obesity medication (the other drug being phentermine). Also known as Pondimin, fenfluramine was introduced on the U.S. market in 1973. It is the racemic mixture of two enantiomers, dextrofenfluramine and levofenfluramine. It increases the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical that regulates mood, appetite and other functions. Fenfluramine causes the release of serotonin by disrupting vesicular storage of the neurotransmitter, and reversing serotonin transporter function. The end result is a feeling of fullness and loss of appetite.

Withdrawal due to heart disease

The drug was withdrawn from the U.S. market in 1997 after reports of heart valve disease, and pulmonary hypertension, including a condition known as cardiac fibrosis. After the US withdrawal of fenfluramine, it was also withdrawn from other markets around the world.

The distinctive valvular abnormality seen with fenfluramine is a thickening of the leaflet and chordae tendineae. Roth suggested a mechanism by which fenfluramine damaged the valves. Heart valves also have serotonin receptors, which regulate their growth. He reported that fenfluramine and its active metabolite norfenfluramine stimulated the serotonin receptors 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT). In particular norfenfluramine is a potent agonist of 5-HT2B receptors. These receptors are plentiful in human cardiac valves and appear to be essential for normal cardiac development. Roth suggested that the mechanism by which fenfluramine causes damage is through inappropriately stimulating the valve cells to divide. This valve damage is found in other drugs that act on 5-HT2B receptors.


Further reading

  • Welch JT, Lim DS. (2007): "The synthesis and biological activity of pentafluorosulfanyl analogs of fluoxetine, fenfluramine, and norfenfluramine." Bioorg Med Chem. 15(21):6659. PMID 17765553.

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