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Institute for Response-Genetics (e.V.)

Prof. Dr. Hans H. Stassen, Chairman

(Formerly Associated Institute of the University of Zurich)

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Efficacy of the Various Classes of Antidepressants

Current knowledge about the mechanisms of action of antidepressants is rather limited. In consequence, it is not possible to make any predictions of whether or not a particular patient will respond to a particular treatment. The most puzzling point in the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), however, is the observation that antidepressants which differ greatly in their biochemical design and primary site of pharmacological action display virtually the same efficacy, as measured by the proportion of patients in whom they induce a therapeutic response. Moreover, responder rates are modest, as revealed by recent meta-analyses of FDA data on 10,030 patients from 52 antidepressant drug trials, where active substances showed superiority to placebo in fewer than half of the studies [Khan et al. 2001, 2002]. And, what is particularly difficult to understand: while newer treatments have better tolerability and safety profiles, they do not offer any advantage in either efficacy or their ability to reduce residual symptoms.

Mechanisms of Action

What might explain the relative lack of progress in the field of antidepressant drug research over the past decades? Antidepressants are hypothesized to achieve their effect through modifications of single (or multiple) targets within the monoaminergic systems. However, a significant amount of clinical data suggest that effective antidepressants act in a rather unspecific and indirect way, that is, to merely trigger and maintain conditions necessary for recovery in a subgroup of patients who otherwise would remain nonresponders. Once triggered, the recovery of these patients follows its "natural" course as equally observed under placebo treatment. Indeed, antidepressants appear to be "polyvalent" in the sense that they induce a therapeutic response under various clinical indications. For example, antidepressants are also effective in anxiety disorders and antipsychotics are successfully used in the treatment of bipolar illness.

Advanced Approaches

It is quite unlikely that the observed inter-individual variation of antidepressant drug response "results" from one single factor or a few major factors, as single gene approaches typically "explain" no more than a small percentage < 1.5% of observed variance. In consequence, advanced molecular-genetic approaches to psychotropic drug response involve (1) configurations of a larger number of interacting factors, and (2) quantitative phenotypes that assess more than just the rudimentary response-nonresponse dichotomy.

References

Stassen HH, Bachmann S, Bridler R, Cattapan K, Herzig D, Schneeberger A, Seifritz E: Detailing the Effects of Polypharmacy in Psychiatry: Longitudinal Study of 320 Patients Hospitalized for Depression or Schizophrenia. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2021, doi: 10.1007/s00406-021-01358-5 [epub ahead of print] [get the article]
Moragrega I, Bridler R, Mohr C, Possenti M, Rochat D, Sanchez Parramon J, Stassen HH: Monitoring Mental Health and the Effects of Therapeutic Interventions through Self-Assessment Voice Analyses. Res Psychother. 2021 [in press]
Stassen HH, Bachmann S, Bridler R, Cattapan K, Herzig D, Schneeberger A, Seifritz E. Inflammatory Processes linked to Major Depression and Schizophrenic Disorders and the Effects of Polypharmacy in Psychiatry: Evidence from a longitudinal Study of 279 Patients under Therapy. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2021; 271(3): 507-520 [get the article]
Greil W, de Bardeci M, Seifert J, Bernegger X, Cattapan K, Stassen H, Wagner AL, Sieberer M, Grohmann R, Toto S: Treatment of depression: Are psychotropic drugs appropriately dosed in women and in the elderly? Dosages of psychotropic drugs by sex and age in routine clinical practice. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2021, doi: 10.1002/hup.2809 [epub ahead of print]
Pollak TA, Lennox B, Müller S, Benros ME, Prüss H, Tebartz van Elst L, Klein H, Steiner J, Frodl T, Bogerts B, Tian L, Groc L, Hasan A, Baune BT, Endres D, Haroon E, Yolken R, Benedetti F, Halaris A, Meyer J, Stassen H, Leboyer M, Fuchs D, Otto M, Brown DA, Vincent A, Najjar S, Bechter K: An international consensus on an approach to the diagnosis and management of psychosis of suspected autoimmune origin: the concept of autoimmune psychosis. Lancet Psychiatry 2020; 7(1): 93-108
Zhang M, Bridler R, Mohr C, Moragrega I, Sun N, Xu Z, Yang Z, Possenti M, Stassen HH: Early Detection of the Risk of Developing Psychiatric Disorders: A Study of 461 Chinese University Students under Chronic Stress. Psychopathology 2019; 52(6): 367-377 [get the article]
Bhake R, Kluckner V, Stassen HH, Russell GM, Leendertz J, Stevens K, Linthorst ACE, Lightman S: Continuous Free Cortisol Profiles — Circadian Rhythms in Healthy Men. J Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2019; 104(12): 5935-5947
Stassen HH, Bachmann S, Bridler R, Cattapan K, Herzig D, Höppner K, Schneeberger A, Seifritz E, Wirth A, M. Weisbrod M: Polypharmacy in Psychiatry: Unwanted Side Effects and Inflammatory Response System — A Naturalistic Study of 195 Patients under Treatment. Eur Neuropsychopharmacology 2019; 29 Suppl 1: S345
Greil W, Zhang X, Stassen HH, Grohmann R, Bridler R, Hasler G, Toto S, Bleich S, Kasper S: Cutaneous adverse drug reactions to psychotropic drugs and their risk factors — a case-control study. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2019; 29(1): 111-121 [get the article]
Stassen HH: Heterogeneity of schizophrenic disorders and link to chronically elevated IgM values. Neurology, psychiatry and brain research 2018; 29: 23-24
Stassen HH, Braun S, Bridler R, Seifritz E, Weisbrod M: Inflammatory Processes and Schizophrenia: Evidence from a Twin Study. Eur Neuropsychopharmacology 2017; 27 Suppl 4: S934-S935
Braun S, Bridler R, Müller N, Schwarz MJ, Seifritz E, Weisbrod M, Zgraggen A, Stassen HH: Inflammatory Processes and Schizophrenia: Two Independent Lines of Evidence from a Study of Twins Discordant and Concordant for Schizophrenic Disorders. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience 2017; 267: 377-389 [get the article]
Braun S, Annovazzi C, Botella C, Bridler B, Camussi E, Delfino JP, Mohr C, Moragrega I, Papagno C, Pisoni A, Soler C, Seifritz E, Stassen HH: Assessing Chronic Stress, Coping Skills and Mood Disorders through Speech Analysis. A Self-Assessment "Voice App" for Laptops, Tablets, and Smartphones. Psychopathology 2016; 49(6): 406-419 [get the article]
Delfino JP, Barragán E, Botella C, Braun S, Bridler R, Camussi E, Chafrat V, Lott P, Mohr C, Moragrega I, Papagno C, Sanchez S, Seifritz E, Soler C, Stassen HH: Quantifying Insufficient Coping Behavior under Chronic Stress. A cross-cultural study of 1,303 students from Italy, Spain, and Argentina. Psychopathology 2015; 48: 230-239
Mohr C, Braun S, Bridler R, Chmetz F, Delfino JP, Kluckner VJ, Lott P, Schrag Y, Seifritz E, Stassen HH: Insufficient Coping Behavior under Chronic Stress and Vulnerability to Psychiatric Disorders. Psychopathology 2014; 47: 235-243
Stassen HH, Delfino JP, Kluckner VJ, Lott P, Mohr C: Vulnerabilität und psychische Erkrankung. Swiss Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry 2014; 165(5): 152-157
Giegling I, Balzarro B, Porcelli S, Schäfer M, Hartmann AM, Friedl M, Konte B, Krämer P, Möller HJ, De Ronchi D, Stassen HH, Serretti A, Rujescu D: Influence of ANKK1 and DRD2 polymorphisms in response to haloperidol. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2013; 263(1): 65-74
Bridler R, Orosz A, Cattapan K, Stassen HH: In Need of Psychiatric Help - Leave a Message after the Beep. Psychopathology. 2013; 46(3): 201-205
Drago A, Giegling I, Schäfer M, Hartmann AM, Friedl M, Konte B, Möller HJ, De Ronchi D, Stassen HH, Serretti A, Rujescu D: AKAP13, CACNA1, GRIK4 and GRIA1 genetic variations may be associated with haloperidol efficacy during acute treatment. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2013; 23(8): 887-894
Drago A, Giegling I, Schäfer M, Hartmann AM, Möller HJ, De Ronchi D, Stassen HH, Serretti A, Rujescu D: No association of a set of candidate genes on haloperidol side effects. PLoS One. 2012; 7(10): e44853
Giegling I, Drago A, Dolzan V, Plesnicar BK, Schäfer M, Hartmann AM, Sander T, Toliat MR, Möller HJ, Stassen HH, Rujescu D, Serretti A: Glutamatergic gene variants impact the clinical profile of efficacy and side effects of haloperidol. Pharmacogenet Genomics. 2011; 21(4): 206-216
Kemp DE, Ganocy SJ, Brecher M, Carlson BX, Edwards S, Eudicone JM, Evoniuk G, Jansen W, Leon AC, Minkwitz M, Pikalov A, Stassen HH, Szegedi A, Tohen M, Van Willigenburg AP, Calabrese JR: Clinical value of early partial symptomatic improvement in the prediction of response and remission during short-term treatment trials in 3369 subjects with bipolar I or II depression. J Affect Disord. 2011; 130(1-2): 171-179
Stassen HH, Anghelescu IG, Angst J, Böker H, Lötscher K, Rujescu D, Szegedi A, Scharfetter C: Predicting Response to Psychopharmacological Treatment. Survey of Recent Results. Pharmacopsychiatry 2011; 44: 263-272
Lötscher K, Anghelescu IG, Braun S, Bridler R, Stassen HH: Polypharmacy in psychiatry: clinical practice versus empirical evidence. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2010; 20 (Suppl. 3): 378-379
Szegedi A, Jansen WT, Van Willigenburg AP, Van der Meulen E, Stassen HH, Thase ME: Early improvement as a predictor of treatment outcome in patients with major depressive disorder: Why the first 2 weeks really matter - evidence from 6562 patients. J Clin Psychiatry 2009; 70(3): 344-353
Stassen HH, Angst J, Hell D, Scharfetter C, Szegedi A: Is there a common resilience mechanism underlying antidepressant drug response? Evidence from 2848 patients. J Clin Psychiatry 2007; 68(8): 1195-1205
Stassen HH, Scharfetter C: Vulnerability, resilience and response to psychotropic drugs: shared genetic factors? Am J Med Genetics 2006; 141: 707-708
Lavergne F, Berlin I, Gamma A, Stassen H, Angst J: Onset of improvement and response to mirtazapine in depression: a multicenter naturalistic study of 4771 patients. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 2005; 1(1): 59-68
Stassen HH, Angst J, Scharfetter C, Szegedi A: Therapie mit Antidepressiva: Erfolg von genetischen Faktoren abhängig? Leading Opinions, Neurologie & Psychiatrie 2005; 6: 25-27
Stassen HH, Angst J: Wirkung und Wirkungseintritt in der Antidepressiva-Behandlung. Medizinspektrum 2004; 15: 15-17
Stassen HH, Dahmen N, Hell D, Nürnberg P, Sander T, Toliat MR, Szegedi A: Genetic predisposition of antidepressant drug response. Am J Med Genetics 2003; 122: 123-124
Montgomery SA, Bech P, Blier P, Moller HJ, Nierenberg AA, Pinder RM, Quitkin FM, Reimitz PE, Rosenbaum JF, Rush AJ, Stassen HH, Thase ME: Selecting methodologies for the evaluation of differences in time to response between antidepressants. J Clin Psychiatry 2002; 63(8): 694-699
Stassen HH, Angst J, Delini-Stula A: Fluoxetine versus moclobemide: cross-comparison between the time course of improvement. Pharmacopsychiatry 1999; 32: 56-60
Stassen HH, Kuny S,. Hell D: The speech analysis approach to determining onset of improvement under antidepressants. Eur Neuropsychopharmacology 1998; 8,4: 303-310
Stassen HH, Angst J, Delini-Stula A: Onset of improvement under fluoxetine and moclobemide. Eur Psychiatry 1998; 13,3: 128-133
Angst J, Stassen HH: Methodische Probleme der Prüfung von Antidepressiva. In: Stieglitz RD, Fähndrich E, Möller HJ (eds): Syndromale Diagnostik psychischer Störungen. Hogrefe, Göttingen 1998: 5-12
Stassen HH, Angst J, Delini-Stula A: Delayed onset of action of antidepressant drugs? Survey of results of Zurich meta-analyses. Eur Psychiatry 1997; 12: 166-176
Stassen HH, Angst J, Delini-Stula A: Delayed onset of action of antidepressant drugs? Survey of results of Zurich meta-analyses. Pharmacopsychiatry 1996; 29: 87-96
Kuny S, Stassen HH: Cognitive performance in patients recovering from depression. Psychopathology 1995; 28: 190-207
Stassen HH, Angst J: Methods of estimating onset of improvement. Eur Neuropsychopharmacology 1994; 4,3: 284-285
Stassen HH, Angst J, Delini-Stula A: Severity at baseline and onset of improvement in depression. Meta-analysis of Imipramine and Moclobemide vs Placebo. Eur Psychiatry 1994; 9: 129-136
Stassen HH, Delini-Stula A, Angst J: Time course of improvement under antidepressant treatment: a survival-analytical approach. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 1993; 3: 127-135
Angst J, Delini-Stula A, Stabl M, Stassen HH: Is a cutoff score a suitable measure of treatment outcome in short-term trials in depression? A methodological meta-analysis. Human Psychopharmacology 1993; 8: 311-317
Angst J, Stassen HH, Woggon B: Effect of neuroleptics on positive and negative symptoms and the deficit state. Psychopharmacology 1989; 99: 41-46

 

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response
Time points of sustained improvement and sustained response in the "average" patient under antidepressant and placebo treatment.
Please note: (1) mean time to onset of improvement is approximately 12 days for all treatment modalities; (2) time to response is approximately 20 days for all treatment modalities; (3) differences between drugs and between drugs and placebo mainly (>90%) relate to the proportion of patients in whom a therapeutic response is induced and to a much lesser extent (<10%) to the time characteristics.
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