Pre-clinical studies, active-control clinical trials and meta-analyses indicate that escitalopram (S-citalopram) might be more effective than citalopram, the racemic mixture of S- and R-citalopram. The present study aimed to confirm the superior efficacy of escitalopram over citalopram. A double-blind, randomized clinical trial was performed in which general practitioners and psychiatrists compared fixed doses of escitalopram (20 mg/day) with citalopram (40 mg/day) over 8 weeks in outpatients with major depressive disorder (MDD) [baseline Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) score > or =30]. Primary efficacy parameter was change from baseline to last assessment in the MADRS total score. Out of 138 (aged 44.1+/-10.9 years; initial MADRS score 36.3+/-4.8) and 142 (aged 46.2+/-11.1 years; initial MADRS score 35.7+/-4.4) evaluable patients who were randomized to escitalopram and citalopram, respectively, six and 15 withdrew prematurely (P=0.05). The MADRS score decreased more in the escitalopram than in the citalopram arm (-22.4+/-12.9 versus -20.3+/-12.7; P<0.05). There were more treatment responders with escitalopram (76.1%) than with citalopram (61.3%, P<0.01). Adjusted remitter rates were 56.1% and 43.6%, respectively (P<0.05). Tolerability was similar in both groups. This randomized double-blind trial confirms that escitalopram has a superior effect to citalopram in MDD.