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Clinical Trial Summary

Antidepressant medication is established as an evidence-based, guideline-recommended treatment for Major Depressive Disorders. In the past decades, prescriptions of antidepressant medication have markedly increased, with a specific surge in maintenance prescriptions and therefore, long-term intake, despite guideline recommendations to discontinue antidepressant medication after maintenance therapy has been completed. Over half of fully remitted patients who attempt to discontinue their antidepressant medication report adverse discontinuation symptoms. For many patients, discontinuation symptoms are so severe, that they do not manage to complete their discontinuation attempt. While discontinuation symptoms, deterioration of depressive symptoms, and recurrence can result from pharmacological effects of antidepressant discontinuation, patients' expectations towards discontinuation are likely to play an essential role in occurrence, too. The aim of the present study is to explore the interplay of expectations and pharmacological effects in antidepressant discontinuation. Participants who fulfill German national S3 guideline recommendations will receive a 1:1 chance to either discontinue their antidepressant medication or remain on their antidepressant medication. In addition, participants' expectations are intended to be manipulated by varying verbal instructions using the open-hidden paradigm. Within the open trial arms, participants will receive full information about their treatment (i.e., high expectation). Within the hidden trial arms, participants will be informed about a 50% chance of discontinuing versus remaining on their antidepressant medication (i.e., moderate expectation). Participants will have a 1:1:1:1 chance of being allocated to 1 of the 4 experimental groups: open discontinuation (OD), hidden discontinuation (HD), open continuation (OC), or hidden continuation (HC) of their antidepressant medication. This preregistration is part of the collaborative research center (CRC) SFB/TRR289 which aims to characterize the psychological and neurobiological effects of treatment expectations on health outcome (https://treatment-expectation.de) and is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).


Clinical Trial Description

Antidepressant medication is established as an evidence-based, guideline-recommended treatment for Major Depressive Disorders. Following initial response to antidepressant medication and full remission of depressive symptoms, treatment guidelines generally recommend maintenance therapy for several months in order to prevent relapse and subsequent discontinuation of antidepressant medication. German national S3 guidelines for treating Major Depressive Disorders recommend that patients with a single episode remain on maintenance therapy for at least 4 months, while those with recurring episodes and significant functional impairment persist for at least 24 months. In the past decades, prescriptions of antidepressant medication have markedly increased, with a specific upsurge in maintenance prescriptions and consequential long-term intake, despite guideline recommendations to discontinue antidepressant medication. Over half of fully remitted patients who attempt to discontinue their antidepressant medication report adverse discontinuation symptoms. For many patients, discontinuation symptoms are so severe, that they do not manage to complete their discontinuation attempt. Additionally, discontinuation of antidepressant medication is associated with elevated risks of deterioration of depressive symptoms and recurrence. While S3 guidelines recommend dose-tapering over at least four weeks when stopping antidepressant medication, precise recommendations on how to minimize the risk of recurrence and the potential burden associated with depressive and discontinuation symptoms are lacking. Discontinuation symptoms, deterioration of depressive symptoms, and recurrence can result from pharmacological effects of antidepressant discontinuation and patients' expectations towards discontinuation are likely to play an essential role in occurrence, too. The present study aims to explore the interplay of expectations and pharmacological effects in antidepressant discontinuation. Participants who fulfill German national S3 guideline recommendations will receive a 1:1 chance to either discontinue their antidepressant medication or remain on their antidepressant medication. In addition, participants' expectations are intended to be manipulated by varying verbal instructions using the open-hidden paradigm. Within the open trial arms, participants will receive full information about their treatment (i.e., high expectation). Within the hidden trial arms, participants will be informed about a 50% chance of discontinuing versus remaining on their antidepressant medication (i.e., moderate expectation). Participants will have a 1:1:1:1 chance of being allocated to 1 of the 4 experimental groups: open discontinuation (OD), hidden discontinuation (HD), open continuation (OC), or hidden continuation (HC) of their antidepressant medication. The trial will consist of a 13-week experimental phase (1 week run-in, 4 weeks of either discontinuation following a pre-specified tapered dose-reduction scheme or continuation of initially prescribed antidepressant medication, 8 weeks monitoring either off antidepressant medication or on initially prescribed antidepressant medication) and a 39-week clinical observation phase. During run-in, all participants will remain on their prescribed antidepressant medication and initial dose, though newly encapsulated to control for tablet appearance effects. All pills for all participants will look identical throughout the whole trial. During the subsequent 4 weeks, participants within the hidden arms (HD and HC) will be blinded as to whether they are receiving tapered dose-reduction or their initial antidepressant medication. During the following 8-week monitoring phase, participants within the hidden arms will receive double-blind placebo pills (HD) or double-blind antidepressant medication (HC). Participants within the open trial arms will either be aware of discontinuing their antidepressant medication during the first 4 weeks following run-in, followed by 8 weeks of receiving open-label placebo pills (OD), or will be aware of remaining on their antidepressant medication (OC) during the entire experimental phase, respectively. At 13-weeks post-baseline, the experimental phase will conclude with the primary outcome measure and patients will be debriefed. Detailed hypotheses are: 1. Interaction effect of treatment and treatment expectation: Treatment (continuation vs. discontinuation of antidepressant medication) and treatment expectation (high vs. moderate) interact in modulating discontinuation symptom load among remitted MDD patients over the course of the experimental phase. 2. Post-hoc comparison on the nocebo-determined effect of expectation: Remitted MDD patients who remain on their antidepressant medication will show a higher discontinuation symptom load with moderate than with high expectation. 3. Post-hoc comparison on the pharmacological effect of treatment: Remitted MDD patients with moderate treatment expectation will show a higher discontinuation symptom load if antidepressant medication is discontinued versus if antidepressant medication is continued. 4. Post-hoc comparison on the effect of treatment expectation: Remitted MDD patients who discontinue their antidepressant medication will show a higher discontinuation symptom load with high than with moderate treatment expectation. 5. Posner task (spatial-cueing-paradigm at 13 weeks post baseline): Attentional and emotional processing differs between the experimental groups among remitted MDD patients. 6. Modulating effects of further psychological, physiological, and medical factors on the relationship between treatment expectation and discontinuation symptom load: The relationship between treatment expectation and discontinuation symptom load will vary according to subjective stress ratings, objective stress measurements of salivary cortisol levels, prior side effects of antidepressant medication, prior discontinuation experience, personality traits, psychopathology, current mental well-being, reported levels of anxiety, and substance use. ;


Study Design


Related Conditions & MeSH terms


NCT number NCT05191277
Study type Interventional
Source Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
Contact Claire Warren, PhD
Phone +49(0) 40 741059901
Email [email protected]
Status Not yet recruiting
Phase N/A
Start date January 15, 2022
Completion date June 30, 2024

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