Certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have anti-inflammatory effects in preclinical models, and recent clinical studies suggest that fluvoxamine can prevent deterioration in patients with COVID-19, possibly through activating sigma 1 receptors (S1Rs). Here we examined potential mechanisms contributing to these effects of fluvoxamine and other SSRIs using a well-characterized model of pro-inflammatory stress in rat hippocampal slices. When hippocampal slices are exposed acutely to lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a strong pro-inflammatory stimulus, basal synaptic transmission in the CA1 region remains intact, but induction of long-term potentiation (LTP), a form of synaptic plasticity thought to contribute to learning and memory, is completely disrupted. Administration of low micromolar concentrations of fluvoxamine and fluoxetine prior to and during LPS administration overcame this LTP inhibition. Effects of fluvoxamine required both activation of S1Rs and local synthesis of 5-alpha reduced neurosteroids. In contrast, the effects of fluoxetine did not involve S1Rs but required neurosteroid production. The ability of fluvoxamine to modulate LTP and neurosteroid production was mimicked by a selective S1R agonist. Additionally, fluvoxamine and fluoxetine prevented learning impairments induced by LPS in vivo. Sertraline differed from the other SSRIs in blocking LTP in control slices likely via S1R inverse agonism. These results provide strong support for the hypothesis that S1Rs and neurosteroids play key roles in the anti-inflammatory effects of certain SSRIs and that these SSRIs could be beneficial in disorders involving inflammatory stress including psychiatric and neurodegenerative illnesses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number39
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


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