Hypobaric hypoxia exposure in rats differentially alters antidepressant efficacy of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors fluoxetine, paroxetine, escitalopram and sertraline

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Treatment-resistant depression, a chronic condition that affects 30% of depressed patients on antidepressants, is highly linked to suicidal behavior. Chronic hypoxia exposure via living at altitude (hypobaric hypoxia) or with chronic hypoxic diseases is demographically linked to increased risk for depression and suicide. We previously demonstrated that housing rats at altitude for a week incrementally increases depression-like behavior in the forced swim test (FST) in females, but not males. In animal models, high altitude exposure reduces brain serotonin, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can lose efficacy when brain serotonin levels are low. To address whether residence at moderate altitude is detrimental to SSRI function, we examined SSRI efficacy in the FST after a week of housing rats at altitudes of 4500 ft. or 10,000 ft. as compared to at sea level. In females, the tricyclic antidepressant desipramine (positive control) functioned well in all groups, increasing latency to immobility and decreasing immobility, by increasing climbing. However, the SSRIs fluoxetine, paroxetine and escitalopram were ineffective in females in all groups: only paroxetine improved swimming in the FST as expected of a SSRI, while all three unexpectedly reduced climbing. Fluoxetine was also ineffective in male rats. Sertraline was the only SSRI with antidepressant efficacy at altitude in both females and males, increasing swimming, climbing and latency to immobility, and reducing immobility. Hypobaric hypoxia thus appears to be detrimental to efficacy of the SSRIs fluoxetine, paroxetine and escitalopram, but not of sertraline. Unlike the other SSRIs, sertraline can improve both serotonergic and dopaminergic transmission, and may be less impacted by a hypoxia-induced serotonin deficit. A targeted approach may thus be necessary for successful antidepressant treatment in patients with depression who live at altitude or with chronic hypoxic diseases, and that sertraline may be the SSRI of choice for prescription for this population.HighlightsTreatment-resistant depression is highly linked to suicidal behavior.Living at altitude (in hypobaric hypoxia) is linked to high MDD and suicide rates.In a rodent model, depression-like behavior increases with altitude of housing.We therefore studied SSRI efficacy in a rodent model of hypobaric hypoxia.Prozac®, Paxil® and Lexapro® lose efficacy at altitude, but Zoloft® does not.Zoloft® (sertraline) may thus be the SSRI of choice for MDD in chronic hypoxia.

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