Neonatal exposure of rats to antidepressants affects behavioral reactions to novelty and social interactions in a manner analogous to autistic spectrum disorders

Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2011 Oct;294(10):1726-35. doi: 10.1002/ar.21402. Epub 2011 Sep 8.


We have demonstrated that neonatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors has lasting effects on behavior and serotonergic neurons in Long Evans rats. Hyperserotoninemia and altered sensory processing are reported in autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). We hypothesized that early life exposure to SSRIs alters sensory processing, disrupts responses to novelty, and impairs social interactions in a manner similar to that observed in ASD. Male and female Long-Evans rat pups were administered citalopram, buproprion, fluoxetine, or saline from postnatal day (P) 8-21. Rats were tested for response to a novel tone before weaning (P25). Later, rats were tested 2× for response to a novel object (P39), and to a novel conspecific (P78, P101). In addition, rats were assessed for juvenile play behaviors (P32-P34) and later, we assessed sexual response to an estrus female in male rats (P153-184). Antidepressant exposure increased freezing after tone, diminished novel object exploration, and reduced conspecific interaction up to 3× compared to saline exposed rats. Juvenile play was profoundly reduced in antidepressant-exposed males when compared to saline exposed groups. Exposure to the SSRIs, but not bupropion disrupted male sexual behaviors. Moreover, specific male responses to female proceptive behaviors were disrupted in SSRI, but not bupropion exposed rats. We conclude that neonatal exposure to antidepressants in rats results in sensory and social abnormalities that parallel many of those reported in ASD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Child
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Locomotion / drug effects
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Social Behavior*


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Serotonin