Citalopram amplifies the influence of living conditions on mood in depressed patients enrolled in the STAR∗D study

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Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the most commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs, have a variable and incomplete efficacy. In order to better understand SSRI action, we explored the hypothesis that SSRIs do not affect mood per se but amplify the influence of the living conditions on mood. To this aim, we exploited the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR∗D) data set, selected a subpopulation of 591 patients with an overlapping clinical history and analyzed treatment outcome according to dosage - 20 or 40 mg per day of citalopram. We found that sociodemographic characteristics affected treatment response in the same direction in the two dose groups, but these effects reached statistical significance only in the 40 mg per day dose group. In the latter, higher improvement rate was associated with having a working employment status (P = 0.0219), longer education (P = 0.0053), high income (P = 0.01) or a private insurance (P = 0.0031), and the higher remission rate was associated with having a working employment status (P = 0.0326) or longer education (P = 0.0484). Moreover, the magnitude of the effect of the sociodemographic characteristics on mood, measured as the percent of patients showing a positive outcome when exposed to favorable living conditions, was much greater - up to 37-fold - in the 40 compared to the 20 mg per day dose group. Overall, our results indicate that citalopram amplifies the influence of the living conditions on mood in a dose-dependent manner. These findings provide a potential explanation for the variable efficacy of SSRIs and might lead to the development of personalized strategies aimed at enhancing their efficacy.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1066
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 21 2017



  • Antidepressant
  • Neural plasticity
  • drug by environmental interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry

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