Rationale: Fluoxetine (Prozac®) is the most frequently prescribed drug to battle depression in pregnant women, but its safety in the unborn child has not yet been established. Fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, crosses the placenta, leading to increased extracellular serotonin levels and potentially neurodevelopmental changes in the fetus.
Objectives: The purpose of this study was to elucidate the long-term consequences of prenatal fluoxetine in rats.
Methods: Pregnant rats were injected daily with 12 mg/kg fluoxetine or vehicle from gestational day 11 until birth, and the behavior of the offspring was monitored.
Results: Plasma fluoxetine transfer from mother to pup was 83%, and high levels of fluoxetine (13.0 μg/g) were detected in the pup brain 5 h after the last injection. Fluoxetine-treated dams gave birth to litters 15% smaller than usual and to pups of reduced weight (until postnatal day 7). Furthermore, prenatal fluoxetine exposure significantly increased anxiety in the novelty-suppressed feeding test, the footshock-induced conditioned place aversion test, and the elevated plus maze test (following footshock pre-exposure) during adulthood, and also significantly decreased components of social play behavior at 4 weeks of age, and a strong tendency for increased self-grooming and making less contact in adults. Behavioral despair, anhedonia, and sexual behavior were not different between treatment groups. Finally, the hypothermic response to the 5-HT(1A) agonist flesinoxan was observed at a lower dose in prenatally fluoxetine-exposed rats than in controls.
Conclusions: Prenatal fluoxetine exposure in rats leads to detrimental behavioral outcomes in later life, which may partly be due to altered 5-HT(1A) receptor signaling.