Reserpine is an indole alkaloid antipsychotic and antihypertensive drug that has been used for the control of high blood pressure and for the relief of psychotic behaviors, although because of the development of better drugs for these purposes and because of its numerous side-effects, it is rarely used today. The antihypertensive actions of Reserpine are a result of its ability to deplete catecholamines (among the others) from peripheral sympathetic nerve endings. These substances are normally involved in controlling heart rate, force of cardiac contraction and peripheral resistance. . Reserpine depletion of monoamine neurotransmitters in the synapses is often cited as evidence to the theory that depletion of the neurotransmitters causes subsequent depression in humans. Moreover, reserpine has a peripheral action in many parts of the body, resulting in a preponderance of the cholinergic part of the nervous system (GI-Tract, smooth muscles vessels).
Reserpine has been discontinued in the UK for some years due to its vast interactions and side effects.
Reserpine was also highly influential in promoting the thought of a biogenic-amine hypothesis of depression - see Everett & Tolman, 1959.
Reserpine is listed as a second line choice by the JNC 7. Reserpine is a second-line adjunct agent for patients who are uncontrolled on a diuretic when cost is an issue.
In some countries reserpine is still available as part of combination drugs for the treatment of hypertension, in most cases they contain also a diuretic and/or a vasodilator like hydralazine. These combinations are currently regarded as second choice drugs. The daily dose of reserpine in antihypertensive treatment is as low as 0.1 to 0.25mg. The use of reserpine as an antipsychotic drug has been nearly completely abandoned. Originally, doses of 0.5mg to 40mg daily were used to treat psychotic diseases. Doses in excess of 3mg daily often required use of an anticholinergic drug to combat excessive cholinergic activity in many parts of the body as well as parkinsonism. Reserpine may be used as a sedative for horses.
There has been much concern about reserpine causing depression leading to suicide. However, this was reported in uncontrolled studies using doses averaging 0.5 mg per day.
Reserpine can cause: nasal congestion, nausea, vomiting, weight gain, gastric intolerance, gastric ulceration (due to increased cholinergic activity in gastric tissue and impaired mucosal quality), stomach cramps and diarrhea are noted. The drug causes hypotension and bradycardia and may worsen asthma. Congested nose and erectile dysfunction are other consequences of alpha-blockade. Depression can occur at any dose and may be severe enough to lead to suicide. Other central effects are a high incidence of drowsiness, dizziness, and nightmares. Parkinsonism occurs in a dose dependent manner. General weakness or fatigue is quite often encountered. High dose studies in rodents found reserpine to cause fibroadenoma of the breast and malignant tumors of the semen vesicles among others. Early suggestions that reserpine causes breast cancer in women (risk approximately doubled) were not confirmed. Besides, it may also cause hyperprolactinemia.