Antidepressants linked to superbugs, study finds

Antidepressants linked to superbugs, study finds

Drug resistance, especially antibiotics, is among the leading causes of death worldwide. With the covid-19 pandemic, the situation worsened even more, with medicines being prescribed without need. Now, Australian scientists reveal that other classes of drugs, such as antidepressants, may have their share of blame in the emergence of superbugs. But these findings are very preliminary.

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Published in the scientific journal PNAS, the study examined the effects of 6 antidepressants — including fluoxetine and sertraline — and 13 antibiotics on Escherichia coli bacteria. The idea was to understand how this exhibition reflected on the resistance of the new lineages.

In the experiment, “after a few days of exposure [a antidepressivos]bacteria develop drug resistance, not just against one, but several antibiotics”, says researcher Jianhua Guo, from the University of Queensland, Australia, in a statement.

However, only the impact of the use of antidepressants on bacteria in the laboratory (in vitro) was investigated. In real life, the results may be different, as other factors must be considered.

Association of antibiotics with superbugs still preliminary

What we do know is that exposure to the antidepressant, in vitro, caused the bacteria to become more resistant and present new mutations over the days. In the experiments, E. coli bacteria, which can normally be found in the gastrointestinal tract of individuals, were used.

But the experiment did not simulate the same natural environment — under these circumstances, today, we don’t know what happens. For example, it is necessary to verify if the same concentrations of antidepressant reach the intestine and, in fact, impact the bacteria.

For this and other reasons, scientists do not advise anyone to stop using antibiotics. “If you have depression, it needs to be treated in the best possible way. Then, in second place, the bacteria”, reinforces Lisa Maier, another author of the study.

Seeking to understand how bacteria react to antidepressants in living organisms, the researchers carried out the first tests on animal models. The idea is to understand how the class of drugs affects the intestinal microbiome of mice.

Source: PNAS and Nature