The effect of citalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant, was studied on cardiac action potential configuration and compared with that of the tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) clomipramine. Conventional microelectrode techniques were used in right ventricular papillary muscle preparations of the guinea pig. Citalopram caused a concentration-dependent (10-100 microM) shortening of action potential duration (APD), depression of plateau and overshoot potential, and reduction of maximum velocity of depolarization (V(max)). No significant changes in resting membrane potential were observed. Similar results were obtained with clomipramine; however, reduction of V(max) and overshoot was more pronounced with clomipramine, whereas citalopram caused relatively greater shortening of APD. Effects of both drugs were partly reversible. The results indicate that the SSRI antidepressant citalopram, similarly to TCA compounds, alters cardiac action potential configuration in guinea pig ventricular muscle, probably owing to inhibition of cardiac Na(+) and Ca(2+) channels. Differences in cardiac side effects of the two drugs may be related to their different actions on cardiac action potential configuration.