Identifying Biological Signatures of N-Acetylcysteine for Non-Suicidal Self-Injury in Adolescents and Young Adults

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The prevalence of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is high in adolescents and young adults. However, there is a paucity of evidence-based treatments to address this clinical problem. An open-label, pilot study in the target population showed that treatment with oral N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a widely available dietary supplement, was associated with reduction in NSSI frequency. In preparation for a biologically informed design of an efficacy trial, a critical preliminary step is to clarify NAC's biological signatures, or measures of the mechanisms underlying its clinical effects. Toward that end, we propose a 2-stage project to investigate NAC's biological signatures (changes in glutathione (GSH) and/or glutamate (Glu)) in women with NSSI. The first stage; a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study will focus on identifying the optimal dose to achieve meaningful change in GSH and Glu during short-term (4 weeks) NAC treatment in 36 women aged 16-24 years with NSSI. Go/No-go criteria to determine if the study will progress to the second stage include pre-specified changes in brain and blood measures of GSH. Changes in the brain GSH are measured through magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). The dose for the stage 2 will be selected based on the biological changes and the tolerability observed in the stage 1. The stage 2 will seek to replicate the biological signature findings in an 8-week trial in a new patient cohort, and examine the relationships among biological signatures, NAC pharmacokinetics and clinical response. This 2-stage project is unique as it unifies clinical psychiatric measurements, quantitative MRS and pharmacological approaches in the first placebo-controlled clinical trial of NAC in young women with NSSI.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: The stage 1 trial protocol has been registered on with ID "NCT04005053" (Registered on 02 July 2019. Available from:

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of psychiatry and brain science
StatePublished - 2021

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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