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Surgically implanted vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a recognised treatment for depression. The vagus nerve can also be stimulated non-invasively via its auricular branch, using transauricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS). Heart rate variability (HRV) is a putative biomarker of autonomic nervous system (ANS) engagement. We aimed to test the impact of taVNS on the ANS of healthy volunteers by measuring HRV using a double-blind, sham-controlled, longitudinal design to acquire data over 7 days using wearable cardiac sensors.
taVNS was delivered to the left ear of healthy volunteers using a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device via a custom clip electrode (developed at Newcastle University). All participants were stimulated at 10 Hz, with pulse widths of 300 ms and variable current outputs, depending on perceptual thresholds. We delivered double-blinded active and sham taVNS for hour-long periods, in the morning and evening. We also recorded an electrocardiogram (ECG) lead I using a VitalPatch for 7 consecutive days. Python scripts were developed to produce HRV timeseries and plot data. ECG frequency domain parameters – low- (LF) (0.05–0.15 Hz) and high-frequency (HF) power (0.15–0.4 Hz) – were calculated for each stimulation period. The LF/HF ratio was used as a marker of autonomic modulation. The Wilcoxon signed-rank test was used to compare LF/HF ratio distributions.
Initial data from the wearable sensors were used to develop interpolation scripts to improve the processing of noise, missed R waves and ectopic beats, to reduce errors when estimating HRV from the heart rate signal. Initial results from 97 individual 1-hour long stimulation periods, from 18 participants, show that active stimulation in the morning, when compared with sham stimulation in the same period, significantly reduces the LF/HF ratio. The median and interquartile range (IQR) of the LF/HF ratio for the active and sham periods was, respectively, 1.72 (1.99) and 2.75 (2.82), a statistically significant difference (p = 0.043).
taVNS modulates HRV frequency domains, suggestive of vagal cardiac effects, and replicates findings from previous taVNS studies. Reductions in the LF/HF ratio are suggestive of increased parasympathetic tone. As the auricular branch of the vagus does not have any direct cardiac efferents, this suggests central ANS modulation using taVNS. Secondly, it suggests that cardiac ANS modulation could be used as a proxy measure of afferent vagal stimulation, which could be of clinical utility. These effects warrant exploration in a larger cohort study, including wider demographics (including age range) and improved processing pipelines.
Autonomic nervous system (ANS) dysregulation might be relevant to the pathophysiology of fatigue and cognitive impairment in depression and perhaps should be considered when making prescribing decisions.
To determine the relationship of self-reported ANS symptoms with fatigue, cognition and prescribed medication in people with a diagnosis of depression, in comparators without depression but with other mental health, neurodevelopmental or neurodegenerative disorders (active controls) and in healthy controls.
Cross-sectional analysis of an opportunistic sample from England. Self-reported data were collected on demographics, diagnosis, medication, ANS symptoms (Composite Autonomic Symptom Scale-31, COMPASS-31) and fatigue (Visual Analogue Scale for Fatigue, VAS-F). A subsample completed cognitive tests (THINC-it), including the subjective Perceived Deficits Questionnaire five-item version (PDQ-5). Spearman's correlation and mediation models were used to explore the relationship between COMPASS-31, VAS-F and PDQ-5 scores.
Data were obtained for 3345 participants, 22% with depression. The depression group had significantly (P < 0.01) more severe autonomic dysregulation as measured by COMPASS-31 scores (median 30) than active (median 23) and healthy controls (median 10). The depression group had significantly higher symptom severity (P < 0.01) than both control groups on the VAS-F and PDQ-5. Overall, there was a significantly positive correlation (P < 0.01) between COMPASS-31, VAS-F scores (Spearman's rho rs = 0.44) and PDQ-5 scores (rs = 0.56). COMPASS-31 scores mediated greater symptom severity on the VAS-F and PDQ-5 for those with depression. COMPASS-31 scores remained significantly different between the depression group and both control groups independently of medication.
People with a diagnosis of depression report worse fatigue and cognition than active and healthy comparators; this appears to be mediated by ANS dysregulation.
In difficult-to-treat depression (DTD) the outcome metrics historically used to evaluate treatment effectiveness may be suboptimal. Metrics based on remission status and on single end-point (SEP) assessment may be problematic given infrequent symptom remission, temporal instability, and poor durability of benefit in DTD.
Self-report and clinician assessment of depression symptom severity were regularly obtained over a 2-year period in a chronic and highly treatment-resistant registry sample (N = 406) receiving treatment as usual, with or without vagus nerve stimulation. Twenty alternative metrics for characterizing symptomatic improvement were evaluated, contrasting SEP metrics with integrative (INT) metrics that aggregated information over time. Metrics were compared in effect size and discriminating power when contrasting groups that did (N = 153) and did not (N = 253) achieve a threshold level of improvement in end-point quality-of-life (QoL) scores, and in their association with continuous QoL scores.
Metrics based on remission status had smaller effect size and poorer discrimination of the binary QoL outcome and weaker associations with the continuous end-point QoL scores than metrics based on partial response or response. The metrics with the strongest performance characteristics were the SEP measure of percentage change in symptom severity and the INT metric quantifying the proportion of the observation period in partial response or better. Both metrics contributed independent variance when predicting end-point QoL scores.
Revision is needed in the metrics used to quantify symptomatic change in DTD with consideration of INT time-based measures as primary or secondary outcomes. Metrics based on remission status may not be useful.
Approximately one-third of individuals in a major depressive episode will not achieve sustained remission despite multiple, well-delivered treatments. These patients experience prolonged suffering and disproportionately utilize mental and general health care resources. The recently proposed clinical heuristic of ‘difficult-to-treat depression’ (DTD) aims to broaden our understanding and focus attention on the identification, clinical management, treatment selection, and outcomes of such individuals. Clinical trial methodologies developed to detect short-term therapeutic effects in treatment-responsive populations may not be appropriate in DTD. This report reviews three essential challenges for clinical intervention research in DTD: (1) how to define and subtype this heterogeneous group of patients; (2) how, when, and by what methods to select, acquire, compile, and interpret clinically meaningful outcome metrics; and (3) how to choose among alternative clinical trial design options to promote causal inference and generalizability. The boundaries of DTD are uncertain, and an evidence-based taxonomy and reliable assessment tools are preconditions for clinical research and subtyping. Traditional outcome metrics in treatment-responsive depression may not apply to DTD, as they largely reflect the only short-term symptomatic change and do not incorporate durability of benefit, side effect burden, or sustained impact on quality of life or daily function. The trial methodology will also require modification as trials will likely be of longer duration to examine the sustained impact, raising complex issues regarding control group selection, blinding and its integrity, and concomitant treatments.
Individuals with treatment-resistant depression (TRD) experience a high burden of illness. Current guidelines recommend a stepped care approach for treating depression, but the extent to which best-practice care pathways are adhered to is unclear.
To explore the extent and nature of ‘treatment gaps’ (non-adherence to stepped care pathways) experienced by a sample of patients with established TRD (non-response to two or more adequate treatments in the current depressive episode) across three cities in the UK.
Five treatment gaps were considered and compared with guidelines, in a cross-sectional retrospective analysis: delay to receiving treatment, lack of access to psychological therapies, delays to medication changes, delays to adjunctive (pharmacological augmentation) treatment and lack of access to secondary care. We additionally explored participant characteristics associated with the extent of treatment gaps experienced.
Of 178 patients with TRD, 47% had been in the current depressive episode for >1 year before initiating antidepressants; 53% had received adequate psychological therapy. A total of 47 and 51% had remained on an unsuccessful first and second antidepressant trial respectively for >16 weeks, and 24 and 27% for >1 year before medication switch, respectively. Further, 54% had tried three or more antidepressant medications within their episode, and only 11% had received adjunctive treatment.
There appears to be a considerable difference between treatment guidelines for depression and the reality of care received by people with TRD. Future research examining representative samples of patients could determine recommendations for optimising care pathways, and ultimately outcomes, for individuals with this illness.
Cognitive deficits affect a significant proportion of patients with bipolar disorder (BD). Problems with sustained attention have been found independent of mood state and the causes are unclear. We aimed to investigate whether physical parameters such as activity levels, sleep, and body mass index (BMI) may be contributing factors.
Forty-six patients with BD and 42 controls completed a battery of neuropsychological tests and wore a triaxial accelerometer for 21 days which collected information on physical activity, sleep, and circadian rhythm. Ex-Gaussian analyses were used to characterise reaction time distributions. We used hierarchical regression analyses to examine whether physical activity, BMI, circadian rhythm, and sleep predicted variance in the performance of cognitive tasks.
Neither physical activity, BMI, nor circadian rhythm predicted significant variance on any of the cognitive tasks. However, the presence of a sleep abnormality significantly predicted a higher intra-individual variability of the reaction time distributions on the Attention Network Task.
This study suggests that there is an association between sleep abnormalities and cognition in BD, with little or no relationship with physical activity, BMI, and circadian rhythm.
As uncertainty remains about whether clinical response influences cognitive function after electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for depression, we examined the effect of remission status on cognitive function in depressed patients 4 months after a course of ECT.
A secondary analysis was undertaken on participants completing a randomised controlled trial of ketamine augmentation of ECT for depression who were categorised by remission status (MADRS ⩽10 v. >10) 4 months after ECT. Cognition was assessed with self-rated memory and neuropsychological tests of anterograde verbal and visual memory, autobiographical memory, verbal fluency and working memory. Patients were assessed through the study, healthy controls on a single occasion, and compared using analysis of variance.
At 4-month follow-up, remitted patients (N = 18) had a mean MADRS depression score of 3.8 (95% CI 2.2–5.4) compared with 27.2 (23.0–31.5) in non-remitted patients (N = 19), with no significant baseline differences between the two groups. Patients were impaired on all cognitive measures at baseline. There was no deterioration, with some measures improving, 4-months after ECT, at which time remitted patients had significantly improved self-rated memory, anterograde verbal memory and category verbal fluency compared with those remaining depressed. Self-rated memory correlated with category fluency and autobiographical memory at follow-up.
We found no evidence of persistent impairment of cognition after ECT. Achieving remission improved subjective memory and verbal memory recall, but other aspects of cognitive function were not influenced by remission status. Self-rated memory may be useful to monitor the effects of ECT on longer-term memory.
While there is no mention of ECT in the current NICE guidelines on bipolar disorder (NICE Guidelines; CG185, 2014), ECT is included as a recommended treatment for both manic and mixed affective episodes in bipolar disorder in the American Psychiatric Association Clinical Practice Guidelines (2002), the World Federation of Biological Psychiatry guidelines (Grunze, et al., 2010) and the British Association for Psychopharmacology bipolar guidelines (Goodwin, et al., 2016). Since the previous edition of The ECT Handbook, two narrative and one systematic reviews have been published that describe the evidence base regarding the use of ECT in manic and mixed affective episodes (Loo, et al., 2011; Versiani, et al., 2011; Thirthalli, et al., 2012).
Childhood maltreatment is one of the strongest predictors of adulthood depression and alterations to circulating levels of inflammatory markers is one putative mechanism mediating risk or resilience.
To determine the effects of childhood maltreatment on circulating levels of 41 inflammatory markers in healthy individuals and those with a major depressive disorder (MDD) diagnosis.
We investigated the association of childhood maltreatment with levels of 41 inflammatory markers in two groups, 164 patients with MDD and 301 controls, using multiplex electrochemiluminescence methods applied to blood serum.
Childhood maltreatment was not associated with altered inflammatory markers in either group after multiple testing correction. Body mass index (BMI) exerted strong effects on interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein levels in those with MDD.
Childhood maltreatment did not exert effects on inflammatory marker levels in either the participants with MDD or the control group in our study. Our results instead highlight the more pertinent influence of BMI.
Declaration of interest
D.A.C. and H.W. work for Eli Lilly Inc. R.N. has received speaker fees from Sunovion, Jansen and Lundbeck. G.B. has received consultancy fees and funding from Eli Lilly. R.H.M.-W. has received consultancy fees or has a financial relationship with AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cyberonics, Eli Lilly, Ferrer, Janssen-Cilag, Lundbeck, MyTomorrows, Otsuka, Pfizer, Pulse, Roche, Servier, SPIMACO and Sunovian. I.M.A. has received consultancy fees or has a financial relationship with Alkermes, Lundbeck, Lundbeck/Otsuka, and Servier. S.W. has sat on an advisory board for Sunovion, Allergan and has received speaker fees from Astra Zeneca. A.H.Y. has received honoraria for speaking from Astra Zeneca, Lundbeck, Eli Lilly, Sunovion; honoraria for consulting from Allergan, Livanova and Lundbeck, Sunovion, Janssen; and research grant support from Janssen. A.J.C. has received honoraria for speaking from Astra Zeneca, honoraria for consulting with Allergan, Livanova and Lundbeck and research grant support from Lundbeck.
Most people with bipolar disorder spend a significant percentage of their lifetime experiencing either subsyndromal depressive symptoms or major depressive episodes, which contribute greatly to the high levels of disability and mortality associated with the disorder. Despite the importance of bipolar depression, there are only a small number of recognised treatment options available. Consecutive treatment failures can quickly exhaust these options leading to treatment-resistant bipolar depression (TRBD). Remarkably few studies have evaluated TRBD and those available lack a comprehensive definition of multi-therapy-resistant bipolar depression (MTRBD).
To reach consensus regarding threshold definitions criteria for TRBD and MTRBD.
Based on the evidence of standard treatments available in the latest bipolar disorder treatment guidelines, TRBD and MTRBD criteria were agreed by a representative panel of bipolar disorder experts using a modified Delphi method.
TRBD criteria in bipolar depression was defined as failure to reach sustained symptomatic remission for 8 consecutive weeks after two different treatment trials, at adequate therapeutic doses, with at least two recommended monotherapy treatments or at least one monotherapy treatment and another combination treatment. MTRBD included the same initial definition as TRBD, with the addition of failure of at least one trial with an antidepressant, a psychological treatment and a course of electroconvulsive therapy.
The proposed TRBD and MTRBD criteria may provide an important signpost to help clinicians, researchers and stakeholders in judging how and when to consider new non-standard treatments. However, some challenging diagnostic and therapeutic issues were identified in the consensus process that need further evaluation and research.
Declaration of interest
In the past 3 years, M.B. has received grant/research support from the NIH, Cooperative Research Centre, Simons Autism Foundation, Cancer Council of Victoria, Stanley Medical Research Foundation, MBF, NHMRC, Beyond Blue, Rotary Health, Geelong Medical Research Foundation, Bristol Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Glaxo SmithKline, Meat and Livestock Board, Organon, Novartis, Mayne Pharma, Servier, Woolworths, Avant and the Harry Windsor Foundation, has been a speaker for Astra Zeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Glaxo SmithKline, Janssen Cilag, Lundbeck, Merck, Pfizer, Sanofi Synthelabo, Servier, Solvay and Wyeth and served as a consultant to Allergan, Astra Zeneca, Bioadvantex, Bionomics, Collaborative Medicinal Development, Eli Lilly, Grunbiotics, Glaxo SmithKline, Janssen Cilag, LivaNova, Lundbeck, Merck, Mylan, Otsuka, Pfizer and Servier. A.J.C. has in the past 3 years received honoraria for speaking from Astra Zeneca and Lundbeck, honoraria for consulting from Allergan, Janssen, Lundbeck and LivaNova and research grant support from Lundbeck. G.M.G. holds shares in P1Vital and has served as consultant, advisor or CME speaker for Allergan, Angelini, Compass pathways, MSD, Lundbeck, Otsuka, Takeda, Medscape, Minervra, P1Vital, Pfizer, Servier, Shire and Sun Pharma. J.G. has received research funding from National Institute for Health Research, Medical Research Council, Stanley Medical Research Institute and Wellcome. H.G. received grants/research support, consulting fees or honoraria from Gedeon Richter, Genericon, Janssen Cilag, Lundbeck, Otsuka, Pfizer and Servier. R.H.M.-W. has received support for research, expenses to attend conferences and fees for lecturing and consultancy work (including attending advisory boards) from various pharmaceutical companies including Astra Zeneca, Cyberonics, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Liva Nova, Lundbeck, MyTomorrows, Otsuka, Pfizer, Roche, Servier, SPIMACO and Sunovion. R.M. has received research support from Big White Wall, Electromedical Products, Johnson and Johnson, Magstim and P1Vital. S.N. received honoraria from Lundbeck, Jensen and Otsuka. J.C.S. has received funds for research from Alkermes, Pfizer, Allergan, J&J, BMS and been a speaker or consultant for Astellas, Abbott, Sunovion, Sanofi. S.W has, within the past 3 years, attended advisory boards for Sunovion and LivaNova and has undertaken paid lectures for Lundbeck. D.J.S. has received honoraria from Lundbeck. T.S. has reported grants from Pathway Genomics, Stanley Medical Research Institute and Palo Alto Health Sciences; consulting fees from Sunovion Pharamaceuticals Inc.; honoraria from Medscape Education, Global Medical Education and CMEology; and royalties from Jones and Bartlett, UpToDate and Hogrefe Publishing. S.P. has served as a consultant or speaker for Janssen, and Sunovion. P.T. has received consultancy fees as an advisory board member from the following companies: Galen Limited, Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Europe Ltd, myTomorrows and LivaNova. E.V. received grants/ research support, consulting fees or honoraria from Abbott, AB-Biotics, Allergan, Angelini, Dainippon Sumitomo, Ferrer, Gedeon Richter, Janssen, Lundbeck, Otsuka and Sunovion. L.N.Y. has received grants/research support, consulting fees or honoraria from Allergan, Alkermes, Dainippon Sumitomo, Janssen, Lundbeck, Otsuka, Sanofi, Servier, Sunovion, Teva and Valeant. A.H.Y. has undertaken paid lectures and advisory boards for all major pharmaceutical companies with drugs used in affective and related disorders and LivaNova. He has also previously received funding for investigator-initiated studies from AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Lundbeck and Wyeth. P.R.A.S. has received research funding support from Corcept Therapeutics Inc. Corcept Therapeutics Inc fully funded attendance at their internal conference in California USA and all related expenses. He has received grant funding from the Medical Research Council UK for a collaborative study with Janssen Research and Development LLC. Janssen Research and Development LLC are providing non-financial contributions to support this study. P.R.A.S. has received a presentation fee from Indivior and an advisory board fee from LivaNova.
Across the UK there are a number of tertiary level affective disorder services, usually based in academic centres, that provide support for the management of patients with complex and treatment-resistant conditions. Such services play a potentially important role in instilling hope into patients, carers and healthcare teams in situations where therapeutic nihilism has often developed. They also provide a valuable reservoir of expertise on the use of medications outside of licensed usage, and new and emerging treatments. To date there is relatively little data regarding patient outcomes after referral to such services; however, what there is does suggest important benefits for both patients and healthcare economies. As ever, more research is needed.
The effects of in utero exposure to atypical
antipsychotics on infant birth weight are unknown.
To determine whether atypical and typical antipsychotics differ in their
effects on birth weight after maternal exposure during pregnancy.
Prospective data on gestational age and birth weight collected by the
National Teratology Information Service for infants exposed to typical
(n=45) and atypical (n=25)
antipsychotics was compared with data for a reference group of infants
Infants exposed to atypical antipsychotics had a significantly higher
incidence of large for gestational age (LGA) than both comparison groups
and a mean birth weight significantly heavier than those exposed to
typical antipsychotics. In contrast those exposed to typical
antipsychotics had a significantly lower mean birth weight and a higher
incidence of small for gestational age infants than the reference
In utero exposure to atypical antipsychotic drugs may
increase infant birth weight and risk of LGA.
When parenteral treatments are indicated for acutely disturbed behaviour, previous guidelines have recommended droperidol or haloperidol in combination with benzodiazepines. However, there has been recent concern over cardiotoxicity and sudden death associated with some antipsychotic medication and droperidol has now been withdrawn.
To ascertain what alternatives can be recommended to replace intramuscular droperidol.
Selective review of current guidelines and the literature pertaining to rapid parenteral tranquillisation.
Current guidelines recommend haloperidol as an alternative to droperidol. There is evidence of cardiotoxicity with haloperidol and it has a propensity to cause extrapyramidal side effects that may exacerbate disturbed behaviour and reduce longer-term compliance. The rapid-acting intramuscular formulations of atypical antipsychotic agents show promise.
It is recommended that the mainstay of pharmacological rapid tranquillisation should be parenteral benzodiazepines used with due care.
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