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  • The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, Volume 16, Issue 6
  • July 2013, pp. 1383-1394

Cognitive impairments from developmental exposure to serotonergic drugs: citalopram and MDMA


We previously showed that developmental 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) treatment induces long-term spatial and egocentric learning and memory deficits and serotonin (5-HT) reductions. During brain development, 5-HT is a neurotrophic factor influencing neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, migration, and target field organization. MDMA (10 mg/kg × 4/d at 2 h intervals) given on post-natal day (PD) 11–20 in rats (a period of limbic system development that approximates human third trimester brain development) induces 50% reductions in 5-HT during treatment and 20% reductions when assessed as adults. To determine whether the 5-HT reduction is responsible for the cognitive deficits, we used citalopram (Cit) pretreatment to inhibit the effects of MDMA on 5-HT reuptake in a companion study. Cit attenuated MDMA-induced 5-HT reductions by 50% (Schaefer et al., 2012). Here we tested whether Cit (5 or 7.5 mg/kg × 2/d) pretreatment attenuates the cognitive effects of MDMA. Within each litter, different offspring were treated on PD11–20 with saline (Sal) + MDMA, Cit + MDMA, Cit + Sal or Sal + Sal. Neither spatial nor egocentric learning/memory was improved by Cit pretreatment. Unexpectedly, Cit + Sal (at both doses) produced spatial and egocentric learning deficits as severe as those caused by Sal + MDMA. These are the first data showing cognitive deficits resulting from developmental exposure to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. These data indicate the need for further research on the long-term safety of antidepressants during pregnancy.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Dr C. V. Vorhees, Division of Child Neurology (MLC 7044), Cincinnati Children's Research Foundation, 3333 Burnet Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45229-3039, USA. Tel.: (513) 636 8622Fax: (513) 636 3912Email:
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