1. Clinical observations with the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), S-citalopram, indicate that S-citalopram is more efficacious and produces earlier symptom relief than RS-citalopram. Since R-citalopram is at least 20-fold weaker than S-citalopram as inhibitor of the 5-HT transporter (SERT) in preclinical studies, the clinical data suggest an unexpected antagonistic interaction between the two enantiomers. We therefore characterised the interaction of R- and S-citalopram with the SERT in in vivo and in vitro assays. 2. In both behavioural (potentiation of 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)-induced behaviour) and electrophysiological studies (inhibition of 5-HT-elicited ion currents in Xenopus oocytes expressing the human SERT (hSERT) R-citalopram inhibited the effects of S-citalopram in a dose-dependent manner. With S-citalopram : R-citalopram ratios of 1 : 2 and 1 : 4, 5-HTP potentiation was significantly smaller than with S-citalopram alone. 3. R-citalopram did not antagonise the effects of another SSRI (fluoxetine) in either behavioural or electrophysiological studies. 4. In oocytes, inhibition of hSERT-mediated currents by R-citalopram was almost completely reversible and characterised by fast on- and off-sets of action. In contrast, the off-set for S-citalopram was 35-fold slower than for R-citalopram. 5. Kinetic analysis of the oocyte experiments suggests that S-citalopram binding to SERT induces a long-lasting, inhibited state of the transporter and that coapplication of R-citalopram partially relieves SERT of this persistent inhibition. 6. We propose that the kinetic interaction of R- and S-citalopram with SERT is a critical factor contributing to the antagonistic effects of R-citalopram on S-citalopram in vitro and in vivo.