Previously it has been reported that forced swim test (FST) exposure activates the HPA-axis and produces alterations in both cellular and noncellular immunity in rats. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that pretreatment with antidepressants has a protective effect against FST-induced immune changes. The purpose of the present study was to examine the effect of subacute treatment with the tricyclic antidepressant desipramine (DMI, 5 and 10 mg/kg; IP) on immobility in the FST, and on FST-induced changes in endocrine and immune parameters in the rat. DMI treatment at a dose of 10 mg/kg produced a significant reduction in immobility time in the FST, while the 5 mg/kg dose was ineffective. FST exposure produced a significant increase in serum corticosterone and a decrease in adrenal ascorbic acid concentrations, neither of which were significantly attenuated by DMI pretreatment. There was a slight but nonsignificant suppression of PHA-induced lymphocyte proliferation 15 min post-FST exposure. However, DMI treatment produced a significant increase in lymphocyte proliferation at this time point. FST exposure caused a reduction in the percentage of lymphocytes and an increase in the percentage of neutrophils in the peripheral blood; DMI treatment failed to significantly alter these stress-induced changes. There was a profound reduction in relative spleen weight observed in DMI-treated animals 120 min post-FST exposure and this was accompanied by an increase in circulating RBC concentrations. In conclusion, although the FST-induced behavioral changes were normalized by DMI treatment the peripheral aberrations induced by FST exposure (with the exception of lymphocyte proliferation) were not. In addition, DMI pretreatment induced stress-like changes in corticosterone, adrenal ascorbic acid and leucocyte subpopulations in the control animals. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Inc.