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Aquat Toxicol. 2014 Mar;148:130-8. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2013.12.033. Epub 2014 Jan 16.

Effects of the antidepressant venlafaxine on fish brain serotonin and predation behavior.

Author information

  • 1Institute of Environmental Toxicology, Department of Biological Sciences, Clemson University, 509 Westinghouse Road, P.O. Box 709, Pendleton, SC 29670, USA. Electronic address:
  • 2Department of Mathematical Sciences, 220 Parkway Drive, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634, USA.
  • 3Institute of Environmental Toxicology, Department of Biological Sciences, Clemson University, 509 Westinghouse Road, P.O. Box 709, Pendleton, SC 29670, USA.


Antidepressants that enter receiving waters through final treated wastewater effluent have exhibited relatively low acute toxicity in traditional fish tests at currently measured concentrations. However, the psychotropic mode of action of these compounds warrants examination of the behavioral effects these chemicals may have on aquatic organisms. Previous research has demonstrated that exposure to the antidepressant fluoxetine causes decreased brain serotonin levels in fish and results in a decreased ability to capture prey. Another antidepressant, venlafaxine, has been found at low μg/L concentrations in final treated wastewater effluent. The objective of this study was to quantify the effects of venlafaxine on fish predation behavior and determine if this effect was correlated with changes in brain neurotransmitter concentrations. The predator prey bioassay used hybrid striped bass (Morone saxatilis x Morone chrysops) as the predator and fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) as prey. Bass were exposed to venlafaxine (0-500 μg/L) for a period of 6 days and then allowed to recover for 6 days. During both exposure and recovery, bass were fed four minnows every third day. The time to capture the minnows was quantified and compared among treatments to determine if there was an effect on predation behavior. Brain tissue was analyzed for serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, to determine the relationship between exposure concentration, brain monoamine levels, and predation behavior. Results indicated that venlafaxine exposures increased time to capture prey 1 and 2 by day 6 for the 250 and 500 μg/L treatments. Time to capture prey 3 was increased for all venlafaxine treatments by day 6. Venlafaxine caused a statistically significant decrease in brain serotonin concentrations that initially decreased in a dose dependent manner before reaching a steady state by the end of exposures for all treatments. No significant, dose-dependent changes in dopamine or norepinephrine were seen. Brain serotonin alone did not adequately explain behavioral results. Serotonin response in other tissues as well as peripheral effects may have accounted for additional behavioral responses after brain serotonin reached a depressed steady state.

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Antidepressants; Behavior; Fish; Hybrid striped bass; Monoamines; Neurotransmitters; Pharmaceuticals; Serotonin; Venlafaxine

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