Depression Home > Emsam

Emsam is a drug that is licensed to treat depression. Part of a class of drugs known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, the medication works by increasing the amount of monoamines in the brain, which improves communication between brain cells. Emsam comes in the form of a patch that is applied daily on the upper torso, upper thigh, or outer arm. Side effects can include headaches, diarrhea, and insomnia.

What Is Emsam?

Emsam® (selegiline transdermal patch) is a prescription medication that is used to treat depression (also known as major depression or clinical depression). It is currently the only skin patch that is approved to treat this condition.
(Click Emsam Uses for more information, including possible off-label uses.)

Who Makes It?

Emsam is made by Bristol-Myers Squibb.

How Does Emsam Work?

Emsam belongs to a class of medications called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
To better understand how these medications work, it is important to understand how brain cells communicate with each other. Monoamines are special chemicals that carry messages from one brain cell to another. These messages can include information about many things, including your emotions. Some examples of the monoamines that help transmit these messages include:
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine
  • Serotonin
  • Melatonin
  • Histamine.
When a message (electrical impulse) reaches the end of one brain cell, monoamines are released into the gap between the cells. Here, they quickly travel across the gap until they reach a receptor on the next cell, settling in like a key in a lock. This triggers the electrical impulse to continue through the next cell and on to its final destination.
Once the message has been transmitted, the monoamines in the gap are either reabsorbed by the first cell or broken down by an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO). There are two types of monoamine oxidase enzymes: MAO-A and MAO-B.
If a person has low levels of monoamines in the brain, it can reduce the amount of communication between the brain cells and cause the person to feel depressed.
MAOI medications improve the communication between brain cells by blocking the action of monoamine oxidase. This increases the amount of monoamines in the brain and thus improves a person's depression. While most monoamine oxidase inhibitors work equally on both MAO-A and MAO-B enzymes, Emsam works more on MAO-B than on MAO-A.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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