The attention-emotion interaction in healthy female participants on oral contraceptives during 1-week escitalopram intake

Nathalie Beinhölzl, Eóin N. Molloy, Rachel G. Zsido, Thalia Richter, Fabian A. Piecha, Gergana Zheleva, Ulrike Scharrer, Ralf Regenthal, Arno Villringer, Hadas Okon-Singer, Julia Sacher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous findings in healthy humans suggest that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) modulate emotional processing via earlier changes in attention. However, many previous studies have provided inconsistent findings. One possible reason for such inconsistencies is that these studies did not control for the influence of either sex or sex hormone fluctuations. To address this inconsistency, we administered 20 mg escitalopram or placebo for seven consecutive days in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled design to sixty healthy female participants with a minimum of 3 months oral contraceptive (OC) intake. Participants performed a modified version of an emotional flanker task before drug administration, after a single dose, after 1 week of SSRI intake, and after a 1-month wash-out period. Supported by Bayesian analyses, our results do not suggest a modulatory effect of escitalopram on behavioral measures of early attentional-emotional interaction in female individuals with regular OC use. While the specific conditions of our task may be a contributing factor, it is also possible that a practice effect in a healthy sample may mask the effects of escitalopram on the attentional-emotional interplay. Consequently, 1 week of escitalopram administration may not modulate attention toward negative emotional distractors outside the focus of attention in healthy female participants taking OCs. While further research in naturally cycling females and patient samples is needed, our results represent a valuable contribution toward the preclinical investigation of antidepressant treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number809269
Pages (from-to)809269
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
StatePublished - 9 Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Branco Weiss Fellowship—Society in Science, the National Association for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) Young Investigator Grant 25032—Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, the Minerva Research Group Grant—Max Planck Society (awarded to JS), the Doctoral Scholarship—FAZIT Foundation (awarded to EM), the Fellowship—Joachim Herz Foundation (awarded to RZ), and the Doctoral Stipend from Leipzig University (awarded to NB).

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Beinhölzl, Molloy, Zsido, Richter, Piecha, Zheleva, Scharrer, Regenthal, Villringer, Okon-Singer and Sacher.


  • attention-emotion interaction
  • emotional flanker task
  • female mental health
  • oral hormonal contraceptives
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)


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