Antidepressant exposure causes a nonmonotonic reduction in anxiety-related behaviour in female mosquitofish


• Antidepressants, such as fluoxetine, are routinely detected in aquatic ecosystems.
• Fluoxetine, and antidepressants more generally, could disrupt wildlife behaviour.
• We report fluoxetine exposure (18 ng/L) altered anxiety-related behaviour of fish.
• Behavioural effects were nonmonotonic, with stronger effects at the lower dosage.
• Changes in anxiety-related behaviour could impact the viability of exposed populations.


Worldwide, biologically active pharmaceuticals, such as psychoactive drugs, are routinely detected in aquatic ecosystems. In this regard, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressant, are of major environmental concern. Through targeted action on evolutionarily conserved physiological pathways, SSRIs could alter ecologically important behaviours in exposed organisms. Here, using two field-realistic dosages (measured concentrations: 18 and 215 ng/L) of the SSRI fluoxetine (Prozac), we examined the effects of exposure on anxiety-related behaviours in wild-caught female mosquitofish, Gambusia holbrooki. Anxiety-related behaviour was assessed using a light/dark transition test, with the swimming activity of fish recorded under two alternating light conditions, complete darkness and bright light, with the shift in light condition used to induce an anxiety-like response. Fluoxetine exposure resulted in a nonmonotonic decrease in anxiety-related behaviour (i.e. nonlinear with dose), with fish in the low-fluoxetine treatment being less responsive to shifts in light condition compared to unexposed fish. There was no such difference between unexposed and high-exposed fish. Further, we detected a significant interaction between exposure treatment and fish weight on general swimming activity, suggesting the presence of a mass-specific effect of fluoxetine. More broadly, contaminant-induced disruption of animal behaviour—as documented here—could have wide-reaching effects on population-level fitness.

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