Chronic Enhancement of Serotonin Facilitates Excitatory Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation-Induced Neuroplasticity

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016 Apr;41(5):1223-30. doi: 10.1038/npp.2015.270. Epub 2015 Sep 2.


Serotonin affects memory formation via modulating long-term potentiation (LTP) and depression (LTD). Accordingly, acute selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) administration enhanced LTP-like plasticity induced by transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in humans. However, it usually takes some time for SSRI to reduce clinical symptoms such as anxiety, negative mood, and related symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. This might be related to an at least partially different effect of chronic serotonergic enhancement on plasticity, as compared with single-dose medication. Here we explored the impact of chronic application of the SSRI citalopram (CIT) on plasticity induced by tDCS in healthy humans in a partially double-blinded, placebo (PLC)-controlled, randomized crossover study. Furthermore, we explored the dependency of plasticity induction from the glutamatergic system via N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonism. Twelve healthy subjects received PLC medication, combined with anodal or cathodal tDCS of the primary motor cortex. Afterwards, the same subjects took CIT (20 mg/day) consecutively for 35 days. During this period, four additional interventions were performed (CIT and PLC medication with anodal/cathodal tDCS, CIT and dextromethorphan (150 mg) with anodal/cathodal tDCS). Plasticity was monitored by motor-evoked potential amplitudes elicited by transcranial magnetic stimulation. Chronic application of CIT increased and prolonged the LTP-like plasticity induced by anodal tDCS for over 24 h, and converted cathodal tDCS-induced LTD-like plasticity into facilitation. These effects were abolished by dextromethorphan. Chronic serotonergic enhancement results in a strengthening of LTP-like glutamatergic plasticity, which might partially explain the therapeutic impact of SSRIs in depression and other neuropsychiatric diseases.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Citalopram / administration & dosage*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dextromethorphan / administration & dosage
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / drug effects
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / drug effects*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / administration & dosage*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation*
  • Young Adult


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Citalopram
  • Serotonin
  • Dextromethorphan