Behavioral effects of citalopram, tramadol, and binary mixture in zebrafish (Danio rerio) larvae



• Citalopram and tramadol binary mixture effects studied in zebrafish (Danio rerio).
• Embryo-larvae were exposed from fertilization until six days post-fertilization.
• Heart rate, spontaneous tail coiling, and death/malformation incidence unaffected.
• Anxiolytic effects in citalopram (EC50: 471 μg L−1) and tramadol (EC50: 411 μg L−1).
• The mixture was less anxiolytic (EC50: 713 μg L−1), indicating interaction effects.



Pharmaceuticals are emerging as environmentally problematic compounds. As they are often not appropriately removed by sewage treatment plants, pharmaceutical compounds end up in surface water environments worldwide at concentrations in the ng to μg L−1 range. There is a need to further explore single compound and mixture effects using e.g. in vivo test model systems. We have investigated, for the first time, behavioral effects in larval zebrafish (Danio rerio) exposed to a binary mixture of an antidepressant drug (citalopram) and a synthetic opioid (tramadol). Citalopram and tramadol have a similar mode of action (serotonin reuptake inhibition) and are known to produce drug-drug interactional effects resulting in serotonin syndrome (SS) in humans. Zebrafish embryo-larvae were exposed to citalopram, tramadol and 1:1 binary mixture from fertilization until 144 h post-fertilization. No effects on heart rate, spontaneous tail coiling, or death/malformations were observed in any treatment at tested concentrations. Behavior (hypoactivity in dark periods) was on the other hand affected, with lowest observed effect concentrations (LOECs) of 373 μg L−1 for citalopram, 320 μg L−1 for tramadol, and 473 μg L−1 for the 1:1 mixture. Behavioral EC50 was calculated to be 471 μg L−1 for citalopram, 411 μg L−1 for tramadol, and 713 μg L−1 for the 1:1 mixture. The results of this study conclude that tramadol and citalopram produce hypoactivity in 144 hpf zebrafish larvae. Further, a 1:1 binary mixture of the two caused the same response, albeit at a higher concentration, possibly due to SS.


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