Transformation of escitalopram (S-CT), the pharmacologically active S-enantiometer of citalopram, to S-desmethyl-CT (S-DCT), and of S-DCT to S-didesmethyl-CT (S-DDCT), was studied in human liver microsomes and in expressed cytochromes (CYPs). Biotransformation of the R-enantiomer (R-CT) was studied in parallel. S-CT was transformed to S-DCT by CYP2C19 (K(m) = 69 microM), CYP2D6 (K(m) = 29 microM), and CYP3A4 (K(m) = 588 microM). After normalization for hepatic abundance, relative contributions to net intrinsic clearance were 37% for CYP2C19, 28% for CYP2D6, and 35% for CYP3A4. At 10 microM S-CT in liver microsomes, S-DCT formation was reduced to 60% of control by 1 microM ketoconazole, and to 80 to 85% of control by 5 microM quinidine or 25 microM omeprazole. S-DDCT was formed from S-DCT only by CYP2D6; incomplete inhibition by quinidine in liver microsomes indicated participation of a non-CYP pathway. Based on established index reactions, S-CT and S-DCT were negligible inhibitors (IC(50) > 100 microM) of CYP1A2, -2C9, -2C19, -2E1, and -3A, and weakly inhibited CYP2D6 (IC(50) = 70-80 microM). R-CT and its metabolites, studied using the same procedures, had properties very similar to those of the corresponding S-enantiomers. Thus S-CT, biotransformed by three CYP isoforms in parallel, is unlikely to be affected by drug interactions or genetic polymorphisms. S-CT and S-DCT are also unlikely to cause clinically important drug interactions via CYP inhibition.