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Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
Arch Gen Psychiatry. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 August 1.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC2840400


Dr. Barnett S. Meyers
Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University and New York Presbyterian Hospital – Westchester Division
Dr. Alastair J. Flint
Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto and University Health Network
Geriatric Program and Research Institute and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and Toronto General Research Institute, Toronto
Dr. Anthony J. Rothschild
University of Massachusetts Medical School and University of Massachusetts Memorial Health Care
Dr. Benoit H. Mulsant
Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto and University Health Network
Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto
Dr. Ellen M. Whyte
Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine



Expert guidelines recommend that the pharmacological treatment of major depression with psychotic features (MDpsy) combines antidepressant with antipsychotic medications. However, evidence for the efficacy of combination pharmacotherapy has been limited and without positive trials in geriatric patients.


(1) Compare remission rates in MDpsy associated with combination atypical antipsychotic medication plus a serotonin-reuptake-inhibitor antidepressant (SSRI) to remission associated with antipsychotic monotherapy; (2) Compare the efficacy and tolerability of treatment in younger versus older adults.

Design and Context:

Twelve-week double-blind randomized controlled comparison of olanzapine plus sertraline to olanzapine plus placebo conducted on clinical services of four academic sites.

Patients and Interventions:

259 subjects with MDpsy randomized by age ≥60 on a 1:1 basis; mean age of 117 younger adults = 41.3(10.8) versus 71.7(7.8) in 142 geriatric participants; target doses of olanzapine 15-20 mg/day plus masked sertraline or placebo at 150-200 mg/day.


Olanzapine/sertraline was associated with a higher remission rates over the trial than olanzapine/placebo (OR=1.28, 95% CI =1.12-1.47, p<.001). 41.9% of combination subjects were in remission at their last assessment compared to 23.9% of olanzapine monotherapy subjects (χ21= 9.53, p=.002). Combination therapy was comparably superior in younger adult (OR=1.25, 95% CI =1.05-1.50, p=.02) and older subjects (OR=1.34, 95% CI =1.09-1.66, p=0.01). Secondary efficacy measures also supported combination treatment. Overall tolerability was comparable across age groups, with age-related differences in specific side effects. Both age groups had significant increases in cholesterol and triglyceride levels, but statistically significant increases in glucose occurred only in younger adults (t=2.76, df=205, p=.01). Although both age groups experienced significant weight gain, younger adults gained significantly more weight (14.5±14.7 versus 7.3±10.9 pounds, F=11.10, df=1,221, p=.001).


Combination pharmacotherapy is efficacious for the treatment of MDpsy. Future research must determine the benefits of continuing atypical antipsychotic medications beyond twelve weeks against the associated metabolic effects.

Trial Registration and URL:

Registry ID: NCT00056472

Keywords: Major depressive disorder with psychotic features, Delusional Depression, Randomized Trial, Treatment


Major Depression with psychotic features (MDpsy)1 is a severe but potentially treatable disorder. Epidemiological studies2,3 and studies of large samples of psychiatric patients4,5 indicate that 15-20% of individuals with major depression have psychotic features. Higher prevalence rates approximating 45% have been reported among depressed elderly inpatients6,7. MDpsy is associated with poorer short-term outcomes, a longer time to recovery, greater residual disability and greater mortality than major depression without psychosis2,4,5,8,9.

Expert guidelines10,11 recommend treatment of MDpsy with either electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or pharmacotherapy that combines an antidepressant with an antipsychotic medication. The guidelines were based on studies demonstrating low response rates of MDpsy to tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) monotherapy,12-16 and results from both a small controlled trial16 and pooled analyses17-20 favoring combination treatment or ECT. A recent meta-analysis demonstrating that combination therapy was superior to antipsychotic monotherapy included the only three controlled trials available21. The limited evidence for the efficacy of combination treatment for MDpsy may contribute to the under-recognition of delusions in patients with major depression22 and the low utilization of antipsychotic medications to treat MDpsy in community settings.23,24.

In contrast to young adult trials16, geriatric trials have not demonstrated greater efficacy for combined TCA/conventional antipsychotic therapy compared to TCA/placebo for either acute25 or post-ECT continuation treatment26, but did demonstrate poorer tolerability to combination therapy.

The present study investigated the efficacy of combination treatment in systematically diagnosed patients with MDpsy across a broad spectrum of illness severity and compared the efficacy and tolerability between persons aged 18-59 years and those aged 60 years and older. The investigators compared olanzapine, an atypical antipsychotic medication reported to have acute antidepressant effects in placebo-controlled trials27,28, combined with placebo to olanzapine combined with sertraline, a selective serotonin-reuptake-inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant reported to have efficacy for MDpsy29. The design encouraged aggressive dosing of both medications during a twelve-week trial to maximize remission rates that could be compared to the high remission rates associated with ECT14,17,18,,30,31. The following hypotheses were tested: (1) combination therapy would be more effective than atypical antipsychotic monotherapy; (2) younger adults would achieve higher remission rates than older adults; (3) younger adults would tolerate treatment better than older adults.



Patients 18 years of age or older admitted to the inpatient or ambulatory services of the four participating academic sites between December of 2002 and June of 2007 were eligible for recruitment. The Institutional Review Boards of the participating institutions and a Data Safety Monitoring Board at the National Institute of Mental Health approved study consent forms and monitored the study's progress. Informed consent was obtained from all subjects, either directly or through locally approved surrogate consent procedures.

Strategies to identify eligible patients varied by institution and included review of new admissions, advertisements, and direct referrals by community psychiatrists. Potentially eligible consented subjects were assessed with the Structured Interview for Clinical Diagnosis (SCID)32 to assure that DSM-IV-TR1 criteria for unipolar MD-Psy were met. Inclusion required the presence of at least one delusional belief --a fixed idea that was held contrary to the laws of logic—, a score of ≥2 on one of the conviction items of the Delusional Assessment Scale (DAS)33, and a score of ≥3 on the delusion severity rating item of the Schedule of Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (SADS)34. A SADS delusion severity score of 3 is assigned when there is no more than a transient ability to consider the implausibility of an irrational belief. The presence of at least one clearly defined delusion was required, with or without hallucinations, as studies of MDpsy have generally considered delusional depression and MDpsy to be synonymous35-37. The presence of moderately severe to severe depression was assured by requiring scores of ≥21 on the 17 item Hamilton Depression Scale (Ham-D)38, which was administered using the GRID-Ham-D method39.

This study focused on the treatment of MDpsy rather than syndromes in which psychotic and depressive symptoms accompany dementia. Therefore, patients with dementia or histories of impaired cognition prior to the current depressive episode were excluded. Patients were excluded if they met criteria for another Axis I psychotic or mood disorder, current body dysmorphic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, or substance abuse during the preceding three months. Additional exclusion criteria were the presence of an unstable medical condition that might interfere with completion of the twelve-week trial, a neurological disease, such as Parkinson's disease, that might affect neuromuscular functioning, and ongoing need for medications known to cause depression or psychosis. Patients with known hyperlipedemia or diabetes mellitus, including insulin-dependent diabetes, were allowed to enroll if their metabolic conditions were stable. Patients were excluded if immediate ECT was indicated because of their refusal to eat or drink or imminent risk for suicide. Patients who demonstrated current suicidal ideation without immediate intent and those who had made a suicide attempt during the current episode were allowed to begin the study on an inpatient basis. Screening also involved baseline laboratory assessments, including TSH, folate and B12 levels, an electrocardiogram, and a toxicology screen to detect undisclosed illicit drug use. Finally, patients were excluded if they had received olanzapine 15 mg/day or more for a minimum of four weeks during the current episode or if they were benefiting from their current psychotropic medications regiment.


Eligible subjects were randomized to sertraline plus olanzapine or olanzapine plus placebo using computer-generated lists with investigators and raters blind to treatment assignments. Randomization was stratified by site and age ≥60 with a block size of four. Subjects taking antidepressant or antipsychotic medications at entry had these tapered prior to randomization but a wash out period was not enforced because of the severity of illness anticipated in study participants. Subjects began 5mg/day of olanzapine and 50 mg/day of sertraline or matching placebo, with dose increases permitted every three days as tolerated. Frail elderly subjects initially received 2.5 mg of olanzapine and 25 mg of sertraline/placebo (1/2 of a 50 mg or placebo tablet). Olanzapine was administered openly and sertraline or placebo under double-blind conditions. An attempt was made to reach minimum doses of 10 mg/day of olanzapine and 100 mg/day of sertraline or placebo before the end of week one. Doses were increased to 15 mg/day of olanzapine and 150 mg/day of sertraline or placebo during week two, with further increases allowed to a maximum of 20 mg/day of olanzapine or 200 mg/day of sertraline, as tolerated, beginning in week three. Slower titration or temporary dose reductions of one or both medications was allowed if side effects were suspected; however, subsequent dose increases were required to attempt to achieve minimum daily target doses of 15 mg/day of olanzapine and 150 mg/day of sertraline or placebo. For data analytic purposes, the subject's dose was considered the last dose taken for a minimum of seven days. Adjunctive lorazepam up to 4 mg/day was allowed to control anxiety or agitation and benztropine up to 2 mg/day to control extrapyramidal symptoms. No other psychotropics were allowed.

Study assessments

Baseline assessments were completed within seven days of obtaining consent. Follow-up research assessments were conducted weekly for the first six weeks and then every other week until week twelve or termination. Research assessments included overall symptom severity using the Clinical Global Illness Scale for severity (CGI-S)40, Ham-D scores, assessments for delusional ideation using the DAS and the SADS delusional item, the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS)42 and the Scale for Positive Symptoms (SAPS)42. At baseline, the Cumulative Illness Burden Scale43 was used to assess general medical burden and the Mini-Mental-State-Examination (MMSE)44 was used to assess global cognitive functioning. Raters were trained to achieve adequate reliability prior to conducting study assessments and inter-rater reliability reassessed annually thereafter.

Outcome criteria

Remission was defined as a Ham-D score of ≤10 at two consecutive assessments. The two consecutive assessments Ham-D criterion was applied to assure that remission from mood symptoms was sustained and to allow for comparability with ECT studies that typically use a two-week Ham-D criterion31. Remission also required the absence of delusions, (SADS delusional item scores of 1), at the second assessment of the two-assessment remission of depression interval. A one-week remission of delusions criterion was applied to make the remission of psychosis outcome compatible with the standard duration criterion used in MDpsy pharmacotherapy trials21. Subjects who were not delusional at both of two consecutive Ham-D ≤10 assessments were considered remitted at both time points; subjects who had been delusional at the first of the Ham-D ≤10 assessments were considered as remitted at the second assessment only and subjects who were not delusional at the first assessment but had SADS scores of >1 at the second were classified as not remitted at either assessment. A Ham-D cut-off of ≤10 was used because this cut-off has been a standard in geriatric antidepressant trials45,46 and ECT studies31. Subjects who achieved a Ham-D score of ≤10 without delusions for the first time at week twelve were assessed again at week thirteen to determine whether the two-week duration criterion was met.

Investigators were allowed to withdraw subjects for either clinically significant worsening or for insufficient clinical improvement after five weeks of randomized treatment. Insufficient clinical response was operationally pre-defined as having both a CGI-improvement score of ≤ 2 (no or minimal improvement) and a CGI-S score of ≥4 (moderately or more severely ill). Discontinuations initiated by subjects were categorized as due to perceived poor response, poor tolerability, or withdrawal of consent.

Safety and tolerability assessments considered the incidence of adverse events and evaluations conducted by the investigators. Adverse events were identified at each visit using research assistant interviews and subject reports. Increases of 2 points on a UKU scale item47 or scores of 3 on an item were classified as adverse events. Research psychiatrists quantified extrapyramidal symptoms (EPS) using the Simpson Angus Scale48 and incident akathisia using the Barnes Akathisia Scale49. Tardive dyskinesia was assessed using the Abnormal Involuntary Movement Scale (AIMS)50, applying modified Schooler Kane criteria51 without requiring a two-week duration.

Data Analysis

Comparisons of baseline variables between the two treatment groups utilized Chi Square and t-tests. Baseline factors that differed significantly between the two treatment conditions were identified to be used in sensitivity analyses of the efficacy results. We applied intent to treat (ITT) principles to include all randomized subjects in the primary and secondary efficacy analyses. The primary analyses of treatment efficacy examined the longitudinal binary outcome of remission using mixed effects logistic regression52 with a random intercept that included treatment and time (i.e., weeks from baseline) as fixed effects and a treatment by time interaction effect. The hypothesized difference in remission rates between the two treatment conditions over time was assessed by testing for the significance of an interaction between treatment assignment and time in the trial. The hypothesized age effect on treatment efficacy was tested by assessing the significance of a three-way interaction between treatment, age and time in a full model. The model applied in the efficacy analysis was applied subsequently in each age group to assess the consistency of the efficacy results across the age groups. Also, site by treatment interactions were tested to evaluate site differences in efficacy.

Tolerability comparisons examined the incidence of adverse events and discontinuation rates due to poor tolerability in the two treatment arms and the two age groups. The young and old subgroups were compared for changes in metabolic parameters and for mean and maximum EPS scores during the trial. Secondary analyses compared remission rates between the two groups among subjects who completed the twelve-week trial using Chi Square and changes in CGI-S using mixed effects linear regression models. Exploratory analyses for group differences in changes on Ham-D scores and SADS delusional rating scale scores used mixed effects linear regression. Data distribution was assessed for normality prior to conducting analyses. When necessary, data transformation or non-parametric tests were applied. Each statistical test used a two-tailed alpha-level of 0.05.

Sample Size and Power Calculations

Based on a predicted remission rates of 40% in combination therapy subjects and 20% in monotherapy subjects, 260 subjects randomized into the two treatment groups would provide >80% power at a two-tailed alpha level of .05. This power analysis was based on a simulation study using the mixed-effects model under an anticipated total attrition rate of 45% and a within-subject outcome correlation of ≥0.5.


Disposition of Subjects

A total of 375 patients signed consent of whom 65 (13.4%) were found not to meet criteria for unipolar MDpsy. As illustrated in Figure 1, 51 of the 310 subjects who met psychiatric inclusion criteria either withdrew consent, met an exclusion criterion, or were excluded for other reasons prior to randomization. The ITT sample consisted of 259 subjects, of whom 129 were randomized to combination treatment and 130 to olanzapine plus placebo.

Figure 1

Clinical and sociodemographic characteristics of the randomized sample are described in Table 1. The two groups were comparable for most major baseline variables, but differed for race and inpatient status at study entry. Among subjects in the olanzapine/sertraline group, 85.3% were Caucasian, 13.2% African-American, and 1.6% Asian, compared to a distribution of these races of 83.1%, 9.2% and 7.7% in the olanzapine/placebo group (χ21=6.21, p=.05). Frequencies of inpatient status at study entry were 75.2% in the olanzapine/sertraline group and 63.1% in the olanzapine/placebo group (χ2 1= 7.8, p=.05). The high baseline Ham-D and BPRS scores and 18.5% frequency of suicide attempts during the current episode document the severity of illness in study participants. The mean (S.D.) ages of the 117 younger adult and 142 older subjects were 41.3(10.8) and 71.7(7.8) respectively.

Table 1
Demographic and Clinical Characteristics of 259 Randomized Subjects


End of study daily doses of sertraline or placebo (168.9(44.1) mg. vs. 169.7(35.0) mg, t=0.15, df=229, p=.88) and olanzapine (14.3(5.3) mg versus 14.7(4.7) mg, t=.55, df =234, p=.59) were comparable between the two treatment groups. However, younger subjects received significantly higher daily doses of olanzapine compared to older subjects (15.7(4.7) mg versus 13.5(5.1) mg, t= 3.45, df =234, p<.001). Younger subjects also tended to receive higher daily sertraline/placebo doses (174.3(34.1) mg versus 165.3(43.7) mg, t = 17.8, df =234, p=.08) but the difference was not statistically significant.

Primary Efficacy Analysis

Olanzapine/sertraline vs. olanzapine/placebo

The treatment by time effect was statistically significant (OR=1.28, 95% CI =1.12-1.47, p<.001) demonstrating that the increase in rates of remission over the course of the trial was greater in the olanzapine/sertraline group than in the olanzapine monotherapy group. The significantly greater efficacy of combination therapy was apparent between weeks eight and week twelve (Figure 2). Fifty-four of the 129 (41.9%) participants assigned to combination therapy were in remission at their last assessment compared to 31 of the 130 (23.9%) who received olanzapine monotherapy (χ21 = 9.53, p=.002). Expressed as number needed to treat, one additional patient achieved remission with combination treatment than olanzapine monotherapy for every 5.5 patients treated. Treatment by site interactions on efficacy were not significant (log-likelihood ratio = 4.1, df =3 p=.25). Also, treatment interactions with the hypothesized confounding variables of race, (log-likelihood ratio = 0.0, df=1, p>.99), and inpatient status (log-likelihood ratio = 0.1, df=1, p>.75) were not significant.

Figure 2
Remission Rates in the ITT sample of 259 Subjects Randomized To Olanzapine Plus Placebo Versus Olanzapine Plus Sertraline At Each Assessment

Analysis for age effect

The non-significant three-way interaction between age, treatment and time (OR = 1.05, CI=0.80, 1.37, p=.75) indicated that the treatment by time effect was comparable across age groups. Subgroup analyses showed that the treatment by time effect was statistically significant and comparable in the young (OR=1.25, 95% CI =1.05-1.50, p=.02) and old subgroups (OR=1.34, 95% CI =1.09-1.66, p<.01).

Secondary Efficacy Analyses

CGI-S change scores in the ITT sample significantly favored the olanzapine/sertraline group (F= 5.63, df= 1,1460, p=.02). Also, in the ITT sample, subjects allocated to olanzapine/sertraline had significantly lower Ham-D scores than those randomized to olanzapine/placebo at most time points and during the trial overall (F=14.32, df=1,1722, p<.001) (Figure 3). However, decreases in SADS delusional item were comparable in the two treatment groups without significant differences at any time point (F=1.25, df=9,1720, p=.26).

Figure 3
Ham-D Scores during the Trial in Olanzapine plus Placebo versus Olanzapine plus Sertraline Subjects

The planned analysis of study completers demonstrated that the remission rate was significantly greater in the olanzapine/sertraline subjects who continued to week twelve than in the olanzapine/placebo completers (66.7% vs. 49.2%, χ21 =4.40, p=.04).

Attrition and Tolerability

The overall attrition rate was 45.2% (Figure 1), with 88 of these 117 subjects (75.2%) exiting the trial at or before the week six midpoint. Attrition was significantly lower for the olanzapine/sertraline than in olanzapine/placebo subjects (37.2% vs. 53.1%, χ21=6.58, p=.01). The frequencies of reasons for attrition in the two treatment groups were statistically comparable. Attrition due to subject withdrawal was 14.0% for olanzapine/sertraline compared to 21.5% for olanzapine/placebo (χ21 = 2.55, p=0.11); for study discontinuation due to significant clinical worsening were 12.4% versus 10.0% (χ21 = 0.38, p =0.54); for insufficient response were 3.1% versus 6.9% (χ21 = 2.73, p=0.099); and for intolerable side effects were 3.1% versus 6.9%, (χ21 = 1.98, p=0.16). Similarly, there were no significant treatment group differences in rates of adverse events that occurred in more than 10% of study subjects, with 54.3% of olanzapine/sertraline subjects meeting the UKU for significant weight gain (defined as an increase of 6 pounds or more during the previous month) compared to 53.4% of subjects randomized to olanzapine/placebo (χ21 =.005, p=0.95); 28.7% versus 30.8% respectively having somnolence/sedation (χ21 =.14, p=0.72); 15.5% versus 12.3% having experienced at least one fall (χ21 =.55, , p=0.46); and 15.5% compared to 10.0% having orthostatic light headedness (χ21 =1.76, p=0.84).

Serious adverse events involving increased suicidal thinking or behavior occurred in five subjects (2%). Four of these had been treated with olanzapine/sertraline, including a completed suicide at week four, and one event occurred with olanzapine/placebo (3.1% vs. 0.7%, Fisher's exact p=.21).

Table 2 summarizes the comparisons between younger and older subjects for the most common and clinically significant adverse events. Younger subjects were significantly more likely than older subjects to meet UKU criteria for significant weight gain (65.0% vs. 45.1%, χ21 =10.21, p=.001) but less likely to experience pedal edema (4.3% vs. 13.4%, χ21 =6.33, p=.01). There were no age group differences in incident akathisia or tardive dyskinesia. Although older subjects had higher EPS scores during the trial, the interaction between age group and EPS severity was not significant (F=1.89, df=3,498, p=.212). Two younger subjects and three older subjects were prescribed adjunctive benztropine (Fisher's Exact p>.99). Rates of attrition due to poor tolerability in younger and older subjects were statistically comparable (4.3% vs 5.6%, χ21=.25, p=.62)

Table 2
Adverse Events and EPS in 142 Older and 117 Younger Subjects

Changes in metabolic parameters in the younger and older subjects between baseline and week twelve or termination are described in Figure 4. Cholesterol and triglyceride levels increased significantly over time in both age groups (F=34.85, df=1,205, p<.001 and F=22.11, df =1,201, p<.001 respectively) without significant interactions with age (F=.89, df=1,205, p=.35. and F=.74, df=1,201, p=.39 respectively). Although a statistically significant increase in glucose levels was observed in the younger adults only, the interaction between age group and glucose increases was not significant (F=1.97, df=1,205, p=.16). Consistent with the UKU analysis, both age groups experienced significant increases in weight, with subjects below age 60 having significantly greater weight gain (14.5±14.7 pounds versus 7.3±10.9 pounds, F=11.10, df=1,221, p=.001).

Figure 4
Metabolic Values at Baseline and Week 12 or Termination in Young Adult and Older Subjects


Combination treatment with olanzapine plus sertraline was associated with a greater remission rate than olanzapine monotherapy among patients with MDpsy. The benefits of the combination became more apparent over time during the twelve-week trial with separation favoring olanzapine/sertraline from week eight to the end of the trial. The higher categorical remission rate observed with olanzapine/sertraline compared to olanzapine/placebo was consistent with the significantly greater decreases in Ham-D scores observed with combination therapy.

Our hypothesis that pharmacotherapy would be more efficacious in the younger group was not supported. The greater efficacy of olanzapine/sertraline was comparable in both age groups; furthermore, the subgroup analyses demonstrated the efficacy of combination treatment compared to olanzapine alone in both the younger adults and geriatric subjects.

The rates and severity of adverse events were similar in the two treatment groups. Older subjects did not demonstrate poorer overall tolerability. With the exception of a greater frequency of pedal edema, older subjects were not more likely to experience falls, sedation/somnolence, or have greater extrapyramidal symptoms.

Both age groups experienced significant increases in weight and in both triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Fasting glucose levels increased significantly among younger adults only. The observed metabolic changes are consistent with those reported during olanzapine treatment among younger adults with schizophrenia53. In the absence of reliable measures of premorbid weight, we are unable to estimate how much of the weight gained during the trial was due to the recovery of weight lost during the depressive episode. Our finding that older age was associated with less weight gain is consistent with other reports with atypical antipsychotic medications54 and with olanzapine specifically55,56. In an analysis of data from a subgroup of subjects from this trial, we have shown that the lower weight gain experienced by older subjects is partially explained by their lower cumulative olanzapine dose57.

The positive findings must be considered in relation to the absence of an antidepressant monotherapy arm and previous combination pharmacotherapy trials for MDpsy. Although most studies 12-14,16, 58-60 report poor response rates of MDpsy to TCA monotherapy, positive trials exist in patients with mood congruent delusions treated with high doses of amitriptyline61 or imipramine62,63. The generally poor responsiveness to TCA monotherapy has contributed to the conceptualization of MDpsy as a distinct entity15,35,59 and the recommendation for combination therapy10,11, including in geriatric patients64. Nevertheless, a meta-analysis of the only two trials comparing combination therapy to antidepressant monotherapy did not demonstrate the superiority of combination treatment. Although this meta-analysis did demonstrate greater efficacy for combination therapy compared to antipsychotic monotherapy21, only one of the two trials that used an atypical antipsychotic medication19 was positive. Therefore, these results confirm and extend the results of the meta-analysis.

The TCA studies cited above were shorter then the twelve week duration of STOP-PD. It is possible that longer antidepressant monotherapy trials would result in higher remission rates. The present trial also differed in applying a two consecutive assessment criterion to assure that remission was sustained, which may have contributed to the absence of separation between olanzapine/sertraline and olanzapine/placebo before week eight. Nevertheless, the Ham-D analysis demonstrated that combination treatment was statistically superior on Ham-D scores from week two to week twelve without differences between the treatment arms in changes of SADS delusional scores at any time points. Therefore, the benefit of adding sertraline to olanzapine was specific for the rate of improvement of depressive symptoms.

The possible efficacy of SSRI monotherapy for unipolar delusional depression was suggested by a reported ITT remission rate of 72% with 150 mg/day of sertraline compared to only 27% for 40 mg/day of paroxetine28. Methodological limitations in the trial design65 and a separate report that patients with MDpsy had a markedly lower response rate to 200 mg/day of sertraline than patients with nonpsychotic depression66, highlight the need for additional trials to compare the efficacy of antidepressant monotherapy to combination treatment.

We have reported that pre-study antidepressant therapy was common among the first 100 study participants but that combination therapy was not24. Without accounting for pre-study treatment, we cannot assess whether resistance to prior antidepressant therapy influenced response to either treatment.

Illness severity of participants, with most recruited as inpatients, rendered randomization to placebo only, and use of a placebo lead-in, impractical. The low placebo response rates in previous MDpsy trials (0%66 to 24.5%19) supported not including a placebo arm. Furthermore, the low early remission rate (<10% at week two) decreases the likelihood that a carry-over from pre-trial treatment contributed to these results.

Although patients with major depression associated with hallucinations but not delusions meet DSM IV criteria for MDpsy, the STOP-PD study required the presence of delusions. Therefore, we are unable to assess the efficacy of combination therapy for MDpsy associated with hallucinations only. Also, the study focused on patients with unipolar MDpsy and systematically excluded patients with histories indicating periods of either mania or hypomania. Therefore, the results cannot be generalized to bipolar psychotic depression.

The 45.2% rate of attrition is a limitation. Attrition was comparable to the 48.1% reported in placebo controlled antipsychotic trials68, but higher than the approximately 35% overall rate estimated for antidepressant studies of nonpsychotic depression69. Although the severity of illness among study participants, with 69.1% entering as inpatients, presumably contributed to the high rate of attrition, the lack of systematic follow-up data from subjects who prematurely discontinued the study limits both generalizeability and our ability to apply the results to inform clinical practice69, 70. Mixed effects logistic regression was applied as the primary analytic strategy to allow for the use of all available data under the assumption of ignorable missingness69.

The significantly higher attrition rate among olanzapine than olanzapine/sertraline subjects may be attributable to both more frequent discontinuations by investigators due to insufficient response and earlier self-withdrawal by individuals who were responding poorly to monotherapy. Also, considering symptoms as due to study medications rather than MDpsy may have contributed to the numerically greater frequency of discontinuation attributed to “intolerable side effects” in olanzapine/placebo subjects. The observation that 75.2% of instances of attrition occurred during the first six weeks indicates that the twelve-week trial length does not explain the high attrition rate

This trial applied an innovative and rigorous approach to defining remission in MDpsy. The two consecutive assessment remission criterion has been used in a previous MDpsy trial19 and a two week remission Ham-D cutoff of ≤10 has been used in ECT studies that included MDpsy subjects31,73. The current study added a systematic assessment to assure delusions were resolved as a criterion for remission. In the absence of studies that assessed for the absence of delusions at more than one assessment, determination that delusions were not present at the second Ham-D remission assessment was considered an appropriately stringent remission criterion.

The remission rates of greater than 30% at week eight that rose to 41.9% at week twelve are comparable to those in studies summarized in recent meta-analyses comparing duloxetine71 and venlafaxine72 to SSRI's for nonpsychotic depression. The potential benefit of acute combination pharmacotherapy relative to ECT, which is generally considered the treatment of choice for MDpsy, warrants consideration. The efficacy of ECT has been well-established, with a response rate of 87% when bilateral ECT is administered in academic centers31. The public health significance of the acute efficacy of ECT is tempered by the rapid increase in depressive symptoms that occurs within days of completing a course of ECT73,74 and the markedly lower ECT remission rates (i.e., 30%-47%) reported in community settings75. Therefore, evidence that a pharmacological treatment is efficacious offers physicians an alternative to ECT that may be preferred by some patients for reasons of stigma and practicality. Nevertheless, the adverse metabolic effects of atypical antipsychotic medications are problematic. Further study of the optimal duration of continued combination therapy is needed to balance the high risk of early relapse of MDpsy76,77 against the metabolic abnormalities and significant weight gain associated with atypical antipsychotic medications.



This project was supported by United States Public Health Services grants MH 62446, MH 62518, MH 62565, and MH 62624, MH069430, MH067710, and P30 MH068368 from the National Institute of Mental Health, M01-RR024153 and RR000056 from NCRR and CTSC UL1RR024996. Eli Lilly donated olanzapine for this trial and Pfizer donated sertraline and placebo/sertraline. Neither company played any other role in the study, such as participating in the design, implementation, collection, analysis or interpretation of data or in the preparation, review or approval of this manuscript.

Role of the Sponsor: NIMH supported this study and participated in its implementation through the UO1 mechanism. NIMH did not participate in the collection, analysis or interpretation of study data or in the preparation, review or approval of this manuscript. A Data Safety Monitoring Board at NIMH provided data and safety monitoring.

The authors thank the following members of the STOP-PD Study Team for their contributions:

At Weill Cornell Medical Center: G.S. Alexopoulos, M.D., M.L. Bruce Ph.D. and S. Klimstra, M.D. contributed to the development and implementation of the design. J. English, M.A., M. Gabriele M.S.W., and F. Santana, M.S.W. contributed to data acquisition. G. Addonizio, M.D., J. de Asis, M.D., X.Y. Baran, M.D., and B. Kalyam, M.D., contributed to subject management.

At the University of Pittsburgh: D.J. Kupfer, M.D., and M.E. Thase, M.D., contributed to the development of the design. D.J. Cohen B.S, J.E. Emanuel B.S., T.S. Kamara M.P.H., B. Kephart, B.A., E.R. Mathis B.S., N.M. McLaughlin, R.N., B.S.N., and M. McShea M.S. contributed to data acquisition. A.G. Gildengers MD, Howland M.D., M D. Miller, M.D., and J. Rosen M.D., contributed to subject management;

At University of Massachusetts Medical School: P. Appelbaum and P.J Candilis contributed to the study design; D. Guerin, M.S., C. Wood, M.S., A. Rohrbaugh, M.S., S. Fratoni, C. Calkins, J. Grogan, and M. Martin contributed to the collection and auditing of study data. J. Patel, M.D., E. Smith, M.D., R. Reni, M.D., D. Sit, M.D., E. Kayatekin, M.D., D. Morin, M.D., C. Cimpeanu, M.D., T. Shteinlukht, M.D., M. Vemuri, M.D. Michael Bell, M.D., P. Burke, M.D., N. Byatt, M.D., R. Cook, M.D., K. Deligiannidis, M.D., I. Guryanova, M.D., A. Jastiniah, M.D., and A. Mathur, M.D. contributed to subject management.

At University of Toronto-affiliated hospitals: S. Kasapinovic, M.Sc., C. Andrade, B.A., P. Zuker, B.A., and S., H.B.Sc contributed to data acquisition. A. Schaffer, M.D. and N. Herrmann, M.D., S. Brook, M.D. and J. Silveira, M.D. contributed to implementation of the design and subject management.

At NIMH Staff: J. Olin PhD. (currently at Novartis), E. Zachariah PhD., J. Evans PhD.


Financial disclosures:

All of the authors received salary contributions from the NIMH grants supporting this study.

Dr. Meyers: research support or honoraria from Cyberonics, Forest Laboratories, Organon, Pfizer Inc.;

Dr. Flint: research support or honoraria from Janssen-Ortho, Lundbeck Canada, Organon, Pfizer Canada.

Dr. Rothschild: research support or honoraria from AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers, Cephalon, Cyberonics, Forest, Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer, Takeda, Novartis and Wyeth. Dr. Rothschild has provided expert testimony for Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Forest Laboratories and Eli Lilly. Dr. Rothschild has received royalties for the Rothschild Scale for Antidepressant Tachyphylaxis (RSAT)™

Dr. Mulsant: research support or honoraria from AstraZeneca, Corcept, Eisai, Eli Lilly, Lundbeck, Forest, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, Pfizer. Dr. Mulsant owns stock of less than $10,000 in value in Akzo-Nobel, Alkermes, AstraZeneca, Biogen Idec, Ceslsion, Elan, Eli Lilly, Forest, General Electric, Orchestra Therapeutics.

Dr. Whyte: research support or honoraria from Pfizer, Forest, Ortho-McNeil and research support from NIMH and NICHD/NCMRR.

Dr. Leon: Consultant for NIMH and FDA; has served on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma America, Pfizer Inc. and Organon.

Dr. Peasley-Miklus, Dr. Heo and Mr. Papademetriou do not have financial disclosures to report.


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