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Effect of a single dose of citalopram on amygdala response to emotional faces

  • Susannah E. Murphy (a1), Raymond Norbury (a2), Ursula O'Sullivan (a3), Philip J. Cowen (a3) and Catherine J. Harmer (a3)...

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are typically thought to have a delay of several weeks in the onset of their clinical effects. However, recent reports suggest they may have a much earlier therapeutic onset. A reduction in amygdala responsivity has been implicated in the therapeutic action of SSRIs.


To investigate the effect of a single dose of an SSRI on the amygdala response to emotional faces.


Twenty-six healthy volunteers were randomised to receive a single oral dose of citalopram (20 mg) or placebo. Effects on the processing of facial expressions were assessed 3 h later using functional magnetic resonance imaging.


Volunteers treated with citalopram displayed a significantly reduced amygdala response to fearful facial expressions compared with placebo.


Such an immediate effect of an SSRI on amygdala responses to threat supports the idea that antidepressants have an earlier onset of therapeutically relevant effects than conventionally thought.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence (, which permits noncommercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.
Corresponding author
Dr Susannah Murphy, Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford OX3 7JX. Email:
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This research was funded by a Wellcome Trust studentship.

Declaration of interest


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Effect of a single dose of citalopram on amygdala response to emotional faces

  • Susannah E. Murphy (a1), Raymond Norbury (a2), Ursula O'Sullivan (a3), Philip J. Cowen (a3) and Catherine J. Harmer (a3)...
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