Background and aims. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressants increasingly prescribed against depression during and after pregnancy. However, these compounds cross the placenta and are found in breast milk, thus reaching, and possibly affecting, the fetus and infant during critical developmental stages. Fluoxetine (FLX), a widely used SSRI, can interfere with estrogen signaling, which is important for the development of  female sex organs and certain brain areas, among others. Interference with estrogen signaling can take place on different levels, e.g., by affecting receptor activity or hormone levels. FLX has previously been shown to induce estrogen receptor-dependent transcription in vitro at high concentrations. In this study we set out to assess effects of FLX on estradiol levels in vitro.

Methods. FLX was tested using the OECD recommended H295R model, a human adrenocortical carcinoma cell line that is able to produce all steroid hormones found in the gonads and adrenal glands, including estradiol and testosterone. H295R cells were incubated with different doses of FLX for 48h. Subsequently, concentrations of these two steroids were measured in cell culture medium after FLX exposure, using liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry. Aromatase mRNA expression was assessed using qPCR.

Results. Fluoxetine significantly increased estradiol secretion in H295R cells after a 48h exposure at low, submicromolar concentrations, but showed no effects on testosterone levels or aromatase mRNA expression.

Conclusion. Fluoxetine has the potential to interfere with estrogenic signaling by increasing estradiol secretion at low concentrations, which are relevant for fetal and adult human exposure.


fluoxetine, steroidogenesis, estradiol, H295R, in vitro