Introduction: The serotonergic neurotransmitter system is closely linked to depression and personality traits. It is not known if selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) have an effect on neuroticism that is independent of their effect on depression. Healthy individuals with a genetic liability for depression represent a group of particular interest when investigating if intervention with SSRIs affects personality. The present trial is the first to test the hypothesis that escitalopram may reduce neuroticism in healthy first-degree relatives of patients with major depressive disorder (MD).
Methods: The trial used a randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled parallel-group design. We examined the effect of four weeks escitalopram 10 mg daily versus matching placebo on personality in 80 people who had a biological parent or sibling with a history of MD. The outcome measure on personality traits was change in self-reported neuroticism scores on the Revised Neuroticism-Extroversion-Openness-Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and the Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPQ) from entry until end of four weeks of intervention.
Results: When compared with placebo, escitalopram did not significantly affect self-reported NEO-PI-R and EPQ neuroticism and extroversion, EPQ psychoticism, NEO-PI-R openness, or NEO-PI-R conscientiousness (p all above 0.05). However, escitalopram increased NEO-PI-R agreeableness scores significantly compared with placebo (mean; SD) (2.38; 8.09) versus (-1.32; 7.94), p = 0.046), but not following correction for multiplicity. A trend was shown for increased conscientiousness (p = 0.07). There was no significant effect on subclinical depressive symptoms (p = 0.6).
Conclusion: In healthy first-degree relatives of patients with MD, there is no effect of escitalopram on neuroticism, but it is possible that escitalopram may increase the personality traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness.
Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT00386841.