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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013 Oct;38(11):2260-7. doi: 10.1038/npp.2013.127. Epub 2013 May 17.

Effect of serotonin on paired associative stimulation-induced plasticity in the human motor cortex.

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Clinic of Clinical Neurophysiology, Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany.


Serotonin modulates diverse brain functions. Beyond its clinical antidepressant effects, it improves motor performance, learning and memory formation. These effects might at least be partially caused by the impact of serotonin on neuroplasticity, which is thought to be an important foundation of the respective functions. In principal accordance, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors enhance long-term potentiation-like plasticity induced by transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in humans. As other neuromodulators have discernable effects on different kinds of plasticity in humans, here we were interested to explore the impact of serotonin on paired associative stimulation (PAS)-induced plasticity, which induces a more focal kind of plasticity, as compared with tDCS, shares some features with spike timing-dependent plasticity, and is thought to be relative closely related to learning processes. In this single-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized crossover study, we administered a single dose of 20 mg citalopram or placebo medication and applied facilitatory- and excitability-diminishing PAS to the left motor cortex of 14 healthy subjects. Cortico-spinal excitability was explored via single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation-elicited MEP amplitudes up to the next evening after plasticity induction. After citalopram administration, inhibitory PAS-induced after-effects were abolished and excitatory PAS-induced after-effects were enhanced trendwise, as compared with the respective placebo conditions. These results show that serotonin modulates PAS-induced neuroplasticity by shifting it into the direction of facilitation, which might help to explain mechanism of positive therapeutic effects of serotonin in learning and medical conditions characterized by enhanced inhibitory or reduced facilitatory plasticity, including depression and stroke.

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