Short-term exposure to tricyclic antidepressants delays righting time in marine and freshwater snails with evidence for low-dose stimulation of righting speed by imipramine

  • Peter P. FongEmail author
  • Kelsey E. DiPenta
  • Sarahrose M. Jonik
  • Courtney D. Ward
Research Article


Active pharmaceutical ingredients such as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are contaminants of emerging concern which are commonly detected in wastewater effluent and which can disrupt the behavior of non-target organisms. In aquatic snails, the righting response is a critical behavior that has been shown to be inhibited by exposure to SSRI-type antidepressants. We exposed marine and freshwater snails to three tricyclic antidepressants (clomipramine, amitriptyline, and imipramine) for 1 h and measured righting response time. In the marine mud snail (Ilyanassa obsoleta), all three TCAs significantly increased righting time at concentrations as low as 156 μg/L. Similarly, in the freshwater snail Leptoxis carinata, all three TCAs increased righting time at concentrations as low as 263 μg/L. However, exposure to imipramine from 15.8 to 316 μg/L resulted in significantly faster righting time. Such low-dose stimulation and high-dose inhibition are characteristics of a hormetic response. We discuss the possible physiological mechanism of action of TCAs and other antidepressants on snail behavior, and the occurrence of non-monotonic, hormetic dose responses to human pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment.


Tricyclic antidepressant Snail Gastropod Ecotoxicology Behavior Righting response Hormesis Non-monotonic 



We thank two reviewers for helpful comments.

Funding sources

This work was supported, in part, by the Cross-Disciplinary Science Institute at Gettysburg College (X-SIG) with funds from the John McCrea and Marion Ball Dickson Professorship and Science Fund and the Dr. Randall S. Alberte Fund for Student-Faculty Research in Biology.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyGettysburg CollegeGettysburgUSA

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