Fish study prompts call for closer look at depression drug's hereditary effects

Biologists at the University of Ottawa have discovered that exposing fish embryos to Prozac affected the aquatic creatures' ability to manage stress for generations, prompting a call for further research into the lasting effects of antidepressants on humans.

U of O researchers find fish pass Prozac on to future generations

Biologists at the University of Ottawa exposed zebrafish similar to these at a Boston hospital to the antidepressant fluoxetine, or Prozac. (The Associated Press)

Biologists at the University of Ottawa have discovered exposing fish embryos to Prozac affected the aquatic creatures' ability to manage stress for generations, prompting a call for further research into the lasting effects of antidepressants on humans.

The researchers placed zebrafish embryos in dishes containing fluoxetine, which is sold under the brand name Prozac, for six days.

This may be a cause for concern given the high prescription rates of fluoxetine to pregnant women.- Report published Monday in PNAS journal

They found cortisol levels in the exposed fish dropped and remained low not only into their own adulthood, but also for three generations of their offspring that weren't directly exposed to the antidepressant.

When humans and other animals experience stress, their cortisol levels rise to help them adapt, according to U of O biologist Vance Trudeau in a news release.

Low cortisol levels have been associated with burnout, chronic fatigue and post-traumatic stress disorder in humans.

Researchers from the University of Ottawa have published a new study that explores the link between a popular antidepressant and stress management. 9:42

The study's authors said these systems are quite similar in fish and humans, and believe that link deserves further study.

"Fluoxetine is a drug often prescribed to pregnant women suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues," they wrote in their report, published Monday in the PNAS journal.

"This may be a cause for concern given the high prescription rates of fluoxetine to pregnant women and the potential long-term negative impacts on humans exposed to these therapeutic drugs." 

The authors point out that there are also several health benefits to antidepressants.