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Treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD) is imprecise and often involves trial-and-error to determine the most effective approach. To facilitate optimal treatment selection and inform timely adjustment, the current study investigated whether neurocognitive variables could predict an antidepressant response in a treatment-specific manner.
In the two-stage Establishing Moderators and Biosignatures of Antidepressant Response for Clinical Care (EMBARC) trial, outpatients with non-psychotic recurrent MDD were first randomized to an 8-week course of sertraline selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or placebo. Behavioral measures of reward responsiveness, cognitive control, verbal fluency, psychomotor, and cognitive processing speeds were collected at baseline and week 1. Treatment responders then continued on another 8-week course of the same medication, whereas non-responders to sertraline or placebo were crossed-over under double-blinded conditions to bupropion noradrenaline/dopamine reuptake inhibitor or sertraline, respectively. Hamilton Rating for Depression scores were also assessed at baseline, weeks 8, and 16.
Greater improvements in psychomotor and cognitive processing speeds within the first week, as well as better pretreatment performance in these domains, were specifically associated with higher likelihood of response to placebo. Moreover, better reward responsiveness, poorer cognitive control and greater verbal fluency were associated with greater likelihood of response to bupropion in patients who previously failed to respond to sertraline.
These exploratory results warrant further scrutiny, but demonstrate that quick and non-invasive behavioral tests may have substantial clinical value in predicting antidepressant treatment response.
This report tests the association of self-reported symptoms of irritability with overt behavior of anger attacks (uncharacteristic sudden bouts of anger that are disproportionate to situation and associated with autonomic activation).
Participants of the Establishing Moderators and Biosignatures of Antidepressant Response in Clinical Care study who completed Massachusetts General Hospital Anger Attacks questionnaire were included (n = 293). At each visit, the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and the 16-item Concise Associated Symptom Tracking scale were used to measure depression, anxiety, and irritability. In those with anger attacks present v. those without anger attacks, separate t tests and mixed model analyses compared afore-mentioned symptoms at baseline and changes with treatment respectively. As anger attacks may occur without aggressive behaviors, analyses were repeated based only on the presence of aggressive behaviors.
At baseline, those with anger attacks (n = 109) v. those without anger attacks (n = 184) had similar levels of depression but higher levels of irritability [effect size (d) = 0.80] and anxiety (d = 0.32). With acute-phase treatment, participants with anger attacks experienced a greater reduction in irritability (p < 0.001) but not in depression (p = 0.813) or anxiety (p = 0.771) as compared to those without anger attacks. Yet, irritability levels at week-8 were higher in those with anger attacks (d = 0.32) than those without anger attacks. Similar results were found in participants with aggressive behaviors.
The presence of anger attacks in outpatients with major depressive disorder may identify a sub-group of patients with persistently elevated irritability.
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