, Volume 202, Issue 4, pp 621-634
Date: 30 Sep 2008

Evidence for modulation of facial emotional processing bias during emotional expression decoding by serotonergic and noradrenergic antidepressants: an event-related potential (ERP) study

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Serotonergic (SSRI) and noradrenergic (NRI) antidepressants modulate biases in emotional processing such that perceptual bias is shifted away from negative and towards positive emotional material. However, the effects of serotonergic and noradrenergic modulation on the temporal course (occurring in milliseconds) of emotional processing, and in particular, the rapid physiological changes associated with the different stages of emotional processing, are unknown.


The current study assessed the effects of acute serotonergic (i.e. with citalopram) and noradrenergic (i.e. with reboxetine) augmentation on event-related potential (ERP) measures associated with ‘structural encoding’ (N170) and emotion expression decoding (N250 and late positive potential [LPP]) for positive (happy) and negative (sad) facial stimuli relative to neutral facial stimuli.

Materials and methods

This study employed a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over design in which 12 healthy male participants completed a facial expression recognition task tested under three acute conditions: (a) placebo, (b) citalopram (20 mg) and (c) reboxetine (4 mg).


Both citalopram and reboxetine had no effect on the N170 ERP component associated with structural encoding, but potentiated the N250 associated with happy (relative to neutral) emotional facial expression decoding. Both drugs had no valence effects on later ERP measures of emotion expression decoding (LPP).


Citalopram and reboxetine have selective effects on the temporal course of emotional processing with evidence to suggest specific effects on emotion expression decoding of positive (happy) emotional facial stimuli as evidenced by changes in the attention-modulated N250 but not structural encoding. These findings provide physiological evidence that antidepressants may shift perceptual biases in emotional processing away from negative and towards positive stimuli.