Treatment-resistant depression (TRD) occurs in many patients and causes high morbidity and mortality. Because TRD subjects are particularly difficult to study especially longitudinally, biological data remain very limited. In a preliminary study to judge feasibility and power, 25 TRD patients were referred from specialty psychiatric practices. All were severely and chronically depressed and mostly had comorbid psychiatric disorders as is typical in TRD. Nine patients were able to complete all required components of the protocol that included diagnostic interview; rating scales; clinical magnetic resonance imaging; medication washout; treatment with maximally tolerated olanzapine-fluoxetine combination for 8 weeks; and pre- and post-treatment fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography. This drug combination is an accepted standard of treatment for TRD. Dropouts arose from worsening depression, insomnia, and anxiety. One patient remitted; three responded. A priori regions of interest included the amygdala and subgenual cingulate cortex (sgACC; Brodmann area BA25). Responders showed decreased metabolism with treatment in the right amygdala that correlated with clinical response; no significant changes in BA25; better response to treatment the higher the baseline BA25 metabolism; and decreased right ventromedial prefrontal metabolism (VMPFC; broader than BA25) with treatment which did not correlate with depression scores. The baseline metabolism of all individuals showed heterogeneous patterns when compared to a normative metabolic database. Although preliminary given the sample size, this study highlights several issues important for future work: marked dropout rate in this study design; need for large sample size for adequate power; baseline metabolic heterogeneity of TRD requiring careful subject characterization for future studies of interventions; relationship of amygdala activity decreases with response; and the relationship between baseline sgACC and VMPFC activity with response. Successful treatment of TRD with olanzapine-fluoxetine combination shows changes in cerebral metabolism like those seen in treatment-responsive major depression.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported through an Investigator-Initiated Grant from Eli Lilly & Company and the Department of Veterans Affairs (I01CX000501). A fixed dose of olanzapine and fluoxetine combination with trade name Symbyax has been approved by the USA Food and Drug Administration with indications for TRD and bipolar I depression. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. We thank Hemant Shah for assistance in data collection and thank the volunteers for their patience and perseverance.
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