Chronic P-glycoprotein inhibition increases the brain concentration of escitalopram: Potential implications for treating depression

Fionn E. O'Brien, Gerard M. Moloney, Karen A. Scott, Richard M. O'Connor, Gerard Clarke, Timothy G. Dinan, Brendan T. Griffin, John F. Cryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Recent preclinical studies have revealed a functionally important role for the drug efflux pump P-glycoprotein (P-gp) at the blood-brain barrier in limiting brain levels and thus antidepressant-like activity of certain antidepressant drugs. Specifically, acute administration of P-gp inhibitors, such as verapamil and cyclosporin A (CsA), has been shown to augment brain concentrations and functional activity of the antidepressant escitalopram in rodents. However, depression is a chronic disorder and current treatments require prolonged administration to elicit their full therapeutic effect. Thus, it is important to investigate whether acute findings in relation to P-gp inhibition translate to chronic paradigms. To this end, the present study investigates whether chronic treatment with the P-gp inhibitor verapamil and the antidepressant escitalopram results in enhanced brain distribution and antidepressant-like effects of escitalopram. Verapamil (10 mg·kg-1 i.p.) and escitalopram (0.1 mg·kg-1 i.p.) were administered once daily for 22 days. On the final day of treatment, brain regions and plasma were collected for analysis of cortical and plasma escitalopram concentrations, and to determine the hippocampal expression of genes previously reported to be altered by chronic antidepressant treatment. Verapamil treatment resulted in a greater than twofold increase in brain levels of escitalopram, without altering plasma levels. Neither gene expression analysis nor behavioral testing revealed an augmentation of responses to escitalopram treatment due to verapamil administration. Taken together, these data demonstrate for the first time that P-gp inhibition can yield elevated brain concentrations of an antidepressant after chronic treatment. The functional relevance of these increased brain levels requires further elaboration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPharmacology Research and Perspectives
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Antidepressant
  • Antidepressant augmentation
  • Blood-brain barrier
  • Escitalopram
  • P-glycoprotein
  • Treatment-resistant depression


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