[Escitalopram and citalopram: the unexpected role of the R-enantiomer]

Encephale. Mar-Apr 2007;33(2):179-87. doi: 10.1016/s0013-7006(07)91548-1.
[Article in French]


Citalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, is composed of 2 enantiomers, R-citalopram and S-citalopram, 2 different non-superimposable mirror image forms of the same molecule. Separating these 2 enantiomers has enabled studying their individual properties. Citalopram's pharmacologic activity is centered on the S enantiomer's high affinity for the serotonin transporter which is twice as high as citalopram's and 30 to 40 times higher than R-citalopram. This leads to an inhibition of serotonin reuptake two times higher for escitalopram compared with citalopram and confirms that citalopram's pharmacologic activity is due to the S-enantiomer. Contrary to what might be expected, the effect of escitalopram (DCI of S-citalopram) is not superimposable on an equivalent dose of citalopram but is superior. Several hypotheses could explain this superiority. First, conversions of the S-enantiomer into the R-enantiomer may occur, but there is no reason why this phenomenon would happen more when both enantiomers are present than when escitalopram is alone. Furthermore, pharmacokinetic studies have shown that S or R configurations are stable in vivo. Second, a particular action of R-citalopram may influence the S-enantiomer's kinetic from intestinal absorption to blood-brain barrier. But concentrations of both enantiomers in the frontal cortex are the same. Therefore, R-citalopram does not interfere with escitalopram's kinetic. Finally, interactions may appear at the synaptic level. Results of experimentation, after in situ injection to the cortex level, confirm that an interaction between the 2 enantiomers takes place at that level. A direct negative interaction of R-citalopram on one or several effectors that create the antidepressive effect seems justified. This negative interaction has been studied in depth. Animal models have shown that the R-enantiomer has no antidepressive potential and when associated with escitalopram prohedonic effects disappear. Escitalopram is more powerful than citalopram in reducing anxiety but the presence of R-citalopram reduces the positive effects of escitalopram. We then may conclude that R-citalopram antagonizes the antidepressive effects of escitalopram and that its presence limits the therapeutic effect and reduces the speed of action of citalopram. The antagonism of escitalopram by R-citalopram was not expected and one hypothesis is that a direct interaction between the 2 enantiomers may occur on a particular site of the serotonin transporter. Results have shown that R-citalopram has a significant affinity only for the allosteric site of the transporter, which regulates the affinity of the ligand for the active site at the origin of serotonin reuptake inhibition. Unlike citalopram, escitalopram's pharmacologic action is not blocked by R-citalopram explaining its greater therapeutic efficacy and more rapid mode of action.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Citalopram / chemistry*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / drug therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Humans
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / chemistry*
  • Stereoisomerism
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Citalopram