Quetiapine (Seroquel®) is an orally administered atypical antipsychotic that is indicated for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, including bipolar depression. An extended-release (XR) formulation of quetiapine is also available. This review summarizes the pharmacological properties, efficacy and tolerability of quetiapine and quetiapine XR in patients with bipolar depression. Quetiapine is an antagonist at both serotonin 5-HT2 and dopamine D2 receptors, and its antipsychotic effects are thought to stem from interactions at these receptors. The antidepressant effects of quetiapine are poorly understood, but may be related to antagonism of 5-HT2A receptors in cortical regions, partial agonism of 5-HT1A in the prefrontal cortex in association with increased extracellular dopamine release in the region, or to reduced synaptic reuptake of noradrenaline resulting from inhibition of the noradrenaline reuptake transporter by the quetiapine metabolite norquetiapine. The efficacy and tolerability of quetiapine was evaluated in five 8-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre or multinational trials in patients with a major depressive episode (MDE) associated with bipolar disorder. Across trials, monotherapy with oral quetiapine 300 or 600 mg/day (or quetiapine XR 300 mg/day) produced significantly greater improvements than placebo in depressive symptoms (primary endpoint), according to the change in the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale total score. In general, quetiapine and quetiapine XR were also associated with significantly higher MDE response and remission rates than placebo. Across trials, quetiapine and quetiapine XR produced significantly greater improvements in global severity of illness scores than placebo, according to changes in the Clinical Global Impressions scale score. There were no differences in treatment outcomes between quetiapine 300 mg/day and 600 mg/day dosage groups. Patients with bipolar depression who responded to quetiapine during two 8-week acute treatment trials also benefited from continuing quetiapine therapy for up to 52 weeks. Compared with quetiapine responders randomized to placebo, quetiapine responders who continued quetiapine 300 or 600 mg/day had a significantly reduced risk of recurrence of any mood events and of depression mood events, but not of hypomanic/manic events. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, quetiapine maintenance therapy for up to 104 weeks was more efficacious than placebo or lithium in prolonging the time to recurrence of any mood event (primary endpoint). Patients in this trial had bipolar I disorder with mania, depression or a mixed episode as the index episode, and the trial included only patients who were responsive to acute phase quetiapine, which may have introduced a positive bias in favour of quetiapine over lithium during maintenance therapy. Quetiapine 300 or 600 mg/day and quetiapine XR 300 mg/day was generally well tolerated in patients with bipolar depression, with most treatment-emergent adverse events being of mild to moderate severity. The most frequent adverse events occurring during the acute treatment phase were dry mouth, sedation, somnolence, dizziness (quetiapine and quetiapine XR), constipation (quetiapine) and increased appetite (quetiapine XR). Extrapyramidal symptoms (EPS) occurred across quetiapine and placebo groups, but there were no significant differences between quetiapine and placebo recipients on objective measures of EPS and akathisia. In some trials, quetiapine recipients experienced significantly greater weight gain than placebo recipients. Across trials, some quetiapine recipients had clinically relevant increases in blood glucose or lipid parameters, although these also occurred in patients from other treatment groups. The clinical significance of these changes is uncertain. In conclusion, quetiapine and quetiapine XR are valuable additions to the first-line treatments for bipolar depression. Further head-to-head trials of quetiapine versus other drug regimens that are effective in bipolar depression would be of considerable interest.