Behavioural and transcriptional changes in the amphipod Echinogammarus marinus exposed to two antidepressants, fluoxetine and sertraline

Maryline C. Bossus, Yasmin Guler, Stephen J. Short, Edward R. Morrison, Alex T. Ford

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In the past decade, there have been increasing concerns over the effects of pharmaceutical compounds in the aquatic environment, however very little is known about the effects of antidepressants such as the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Many biological functions within invertebrates are under the control of serotonin, such as reproduction, metabolism, moulting and behaviour. The effects of serotonin and fluoxetine have recently been shown to alter the behaviour of the marine amphipod, Echinogammarus marinus (Leach, 1815). The purpose of this study was to observe behavioural and transcriptional modifications in this crustacean exposed to the two most prescribed SSRIs (fluoxetine and sertraline) and to develop biomarkers of neurological endocrine disruption. The animals were exposed to both drugs at environmentally relevant concentrations from 0.001 to 1μg/L during short-term (1h and 1day) and medium-term (8 days) experiments. The movement of the amphipods was tracked using the behavioural analysis software during 12min alternating dark/light conditions. The behavioural analysis revealed a significant effect on velocity which was observed after 1h exposure to sertraline at 0.01μg/L and after 1 day exposure to fluoxetine as low as 0.001μg/L. The most predominant effect of drugs on velocity was recorded after 1 day exposure for the 0.1 and 0.01μg/L concentrations of fluoxetine and sertraline, respectively. Subsequently, the expression (in this article gene expression is taken to represent only transcription, although it is acknowledged that gene expression can also be regulated at translation, mRNA and protein stability levels) of several E. marinus neurological genes, potentially involved in the serotonin metabolic pathway or behaviour regulation, were analysed in animals exposed to various SSRIs concentrations using RT-qPCR. The expression of a tryptophan hydroxylase (Ph), a neurocan core protein (Neuc), a Rhodopsin (Rhod1) and an Arrestin (Arr) were measured following exposure to fluoxetine or sertraline for 8 days. The levels of Neuc, Rhod1 and Arr were significantly down-regulated to approximately 0.5-, 0.29- and 0.46-fold, respectively, for the lower concentrations of fluoxetine suggesting potential changes in the phototransduction pathway. The expression of Rhod1 tended to be up-regulated for the lower concentration of sertraline but not significantly. In summary, fluoxetine and sertraline have a significant impact on the behaviour and neurophysiology of this amphipod at environmentally relevant concentrations with effects observed after relatively short periods of time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-56
Number of pages11
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Early online date12 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


  • Antidepressants
  • SSRIs
  • Neuro-endocrine disruptor
  • Behaviour
  • Biomarker
  • Crustacean


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