Comparative efficacy and acceptability of 21 antidepressant drugs for the acute treatment of adults with major depressive disorder: a systematic review and network meta-analysis


Major depressive disorder is one of the most common, burdensome, and costly psychiatric disorders worldwide in adults. Pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments are available; however, because of inadequate resources, antidepressants are used more frequently than psychological interventions. Prescription of these agents should be informed by the best available evidence. Therefore, we aimed to update and expand our previous work to compare and rank antidepressants for the acute treatment of adults with unipolar major depressive disorder.


We did a systematic review and network meta-analysis. We searched Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, CINAHL, Embase, LILACS database, MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process, PsycINFO, the websites of regulatory agencies, and international registers for published and unpublished, double-blind, randomised controlled trials from their inception to Jan 8, 2016. We included placebo-controlled and head-to-head trials of 21 antidepressants used for the acute treatment of adults (≥18 years old and of both sexes) with major depressive disorder diagnosed according to standard operationalised criteria. We excluded quasi-randomised trials and trials that were incomplete or included 20% or more of participants with bipolar disorder, psychotic depression, or treatment-resistant depression; or patients with a serious concomitant medical illness. We extracted data following a predefined hierarchy. In network meta-analysis, we used group-level data. We assessed the studies’ risk of bias in accordance to the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, and certainty of evidence using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation framework. Primary outcomes were efficacy (response rate) and acceptability (treatment discontinuations due to any cause). We estimated summary odds ratios (ORs) using pairwise and network meta-analysis with random effects. This study is registered with PROSPERO, number CRD42012002291.


We identified 28 552 citations and of these included 522 trials comprising 116 477 participants. In terms of efficacy, all antidepressants were more effective than placebo, with ORs ranging between 2·13 (95% credible interval [CrI] 1·89–2·41) for amitriptyline and 1·37 (1·16–1·63) for reboxetine. For acceptability, only agomelatine (OR 0·84, 95% CrI 0·72–0·97) and fluoxetine (0·88, 0·80–0·96) were associated with fewer dropouts than placebo, whereas clomipramine was worse than placebo (1·30, 1·01–1·68). When all trials were considered, differences in ORs between antidepressants ranged from 1·15 to 1·55 for efficacy and from 0·64 to 0·83 for acceptability, with wide CrIs on most of the comparative analyses. In head-to-head studies, agomelatine, amitriptyline, escitalopram, mirtazapine, paroxetine, venlafaxine, and vortioxetine were more effective than other antidepressants (range of ORs 1·19–1·96), whereas fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, reboxetine, and trazodone were the least efficacious drugs (0·51–0·84). For acceptability, agomelatine, citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, sertraline, and vortioxetine were more tolerable than other antidepressants (range of ORs 0·43–0·77), whereas amitriptyline, clomipramine, duloxetine, fluvoxamine, reboxetine, trazodone, and venlafaxine had the highest dropout rates (1·30–2·32). 46 (9%) of 522 trials were rated as high risk of bias, 380 (73%) trials as moderate, and 96 (18%) as low; and the certainty of evidence was moderate to very low.


All antidepressants were more efficacious than placebo in adults with major depressive disorder. Smaller differences between active drugs were found when placebo-controlled trials were included in the analysis, whereas there was more variability in efficacy and acceptability in head-to-head trials. These results should serve evidence-based practice and inform patients, physicians, guideline developers, and policy makers on the relative merits of the different antidepressants.


National Institute for Health Research Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

Reference: The Lancet, Volume 391, No. 10128, p1357–1366, 7 April 2018


NIHR Signals

The National Institute for Health Research has published the following Signals containing summaries of published research for health and social care decision makers:

Effect of Collaborative Care vs Usual Care on Depressive Symptoms in Older Adults With Subthreshold Depression The CASPER Randomized Clinical Trial

Key Points

Question  Is collaborative care an effective method to reduce depressive symptoms in older people with mild depression?

Findings  In the CASPER randomized trial of 705 participants aged 65 years or older with subthreshold depression, those randomized to a collaborative care intervention had lower depression scores as measured by the Patient Health Questionnaire 9-item survey at 4-month follow-up compared with usual care.

Meaning  Among older adults with subthreshold depression, a collaborative care intervention reduced depressive symptoms at 4-month follow-up compared with usual care. The long-term efficacy of this intervention is unclear.


Importance  There is little evidence to guide management of depressive symptoms in older people.

Objective  To evaluate whether a collaborative care intervention can reduce depressive symptoms and prevent more severe depression in older people.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Randomized clinical trial conducted from May 24, 2011, to November 14, 2014, in 32 primary care centers in the United Kingdom among 705 participants aged 65 years or older with Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) subthreshold depression; participants were followed up for 12 months.

Interventions  Collaborative care (n=344) was coordinated by a case manager who assessed functional impairments relating to mood symptoms. Participants were offered behavioral activation and completed an average of 6 weekly sessions. The control group received usual primary care (n=361).

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome was self-reported depression severity at 4-month follow-up on the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9; score range, 0-27). Included among 10 prespecified secondary outcomes were the PHQ-9 score at 12-month follow-up and the proportion meeting criteria for depressive disorder (PHQ-9 score ≥10) at 4- and 12-month follow-up.

Results  The 705 participants were 58% female with a mean age of 77 (SD, 7.1) years. Four-month retention was 83%, with higher loss to follow-up in collaborative care (82/344 [24%]) vs usual care (37/361 [10%]). Collaborative care resulted in lower PHQ-9 scores vs usual care at 4-month follow-up (mean score with collaborative care, 5.36 vs with usual care, 6.67; mean difference, −1.31; 95% CI, −1.95 to −0.67; P < .001). Treatment differences remained at 12 months (mean PHQ-9 score with collaborative care, 5.93 vs with usual care, 7.25; mean difference, −1.33; 95% CI, −2.10 to −0.55). The proportions of participants meeting criteria for depression at 4-month follow-up were 17.2% (45/262) vs 23.5% (76/324), respectively (difference, −6.3% [95% CI, −12.8% to 0.2%]; relative risk, 0.83 [95% CI, 0.61-1.27]; P = .25) and at 12-month follow-up were 15.7% (37/235) vs 27.8% (79/284) (difference, −12.1% [95% CI, −19.1% to −5.1%]; relative risk, 0.65 [95% CI, 0.46-0.91]; P = .01).

Conclusions and Relevance  Among older adults with subthreshold depression, collaborative care compared with usual care resulted in a statistically significant difference in depressive symptoms at 4-month follow-up, of uncertain clinical importance. Although differences persisted through 12 months, findings are limited by attrition, and further research is needed to assess longer-term efficacy.

Trial Registration Identifier: ISRCTN02202951

JAMA. 2017;317(7):728-737

Cost and Outcome of Behavioural Activation versus Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Depression (COBRA): a randomised, controlled, non-inferiority trial


Depression is a common, debilitating, and costly disorder. Many patients request psychological therapy, but the best-evidenced therapy—cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)—is complex and costly. A simpler therapy—behavioural activation (BA)—might be as effective and cheaper than is CBT. We aimed to establish the clinical efficacy and cost-effectiveness of BA compared with CBT for adults with depression.


In this randomised, controlled, non-inferiority trial, we recruited adults aged 18 years or older meeting Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV criteria for major depressive disorder from primary care and psychological therapy services in Devon, Durham, and Leeds (UK). We excluded people who were receiving psychological therapy, were alcohol or drug dependent, were acutely suicidal or had attempted suicide in the previous 2 months, or were cognitively impaired, or who had bipolar disorder or psychosis or psychotic symptoms. We randomly assigned participants (1:1) remotely using computer-generated allocation (minimisation used; stratified by depression severity [Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9) score of <19 vs ≥19], antidepressant use, and recruitment site) to BA from junior mental health workers or CBT from psychological therapists. Randomisation done at the Peninsula Clinical Trials Unit was concealed from investigators. Treatment was given open label, but outcome assessors were masked. The primary outcome was depression symptoms according to the PHQ-9 at 12 months. We analysed all those who were randomly allocated and had complete data (modified intention to treat [mITT]) and also all those who were randomly allocated, had complete data, and received at least eight treatment sessions (per protocol [PP]). We analysed safety in the mITT population. The non-inferiority margin was 1·9 PHQ-9 points. This trial is registered with the ISCRTN registry, number ISRCTN27473954.


Between Sept 26, 2012, and April 3, 2014, we randomly allocated 221 (50%) participants to BA and 219 (50%) to CBT. 175 (79%) participants were assessable for the primary outcome in the mITT population in the BA group compared with 189 (86%) in the CBT group, whereas 135 (61%) were assessable in the PP population in the BA group compared with 151 (69%) in the CBT group. BA was non-inferior to CBT (mITT: CBT 8·4 PHQ-9 points [SD 7·5], BA 8·4 PHQ-9 points [7·0], mean difference 0·1 PHQ-9 points [95% CI −1·3 to 1·5], p=0·89; PP: CBT 7·9 PHQ-9 points [7·3]; BA 7·8 [6·5], mean difference 0·0 PHQ-9 points [–1·5 to 1·6], p=0·99). Two (1%) non-trial-related deaths (one [1%] multidrug toxicity in the BA group and one [1%] cancer in the CBT group) and 15 depression-related, but not treatment-related, serious adverse events (three in the BA group and 12 in the CBT group) occurred in three [2%] participants in the BA group (two [1%] patients who overdosed and one [1%] who self-harmed) and eight (4%) participants in the CBT group (seven [4%] who overdosed and one [1%] who self-harmed).


We found that BA, a simpler psychological treatment than CBT, can be delivered by junior mental health workers with less intensive and costly training, with no lesser effect than CBT. Effective psychological therapy for depression can be delivered without the need for costly and highly trained professionals.


National Institute for Health Research.

The Lancet, Volume 388, No. 10047, p871–880, 27 August 2016

Effect of Escitalopram on All-Cause Mortality and Hospitalization in Patients With Heart Failure and Depression The MOOD-HF Randomized Clinical Trial

Importance  Depression is frequent in patients with heart failure and is associated with adverse clinical outcomes. Long-term efficacy and safety of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in these patients are unknown.

Objective  To determine whether 24 months of treatment with escitalopram improves mortality, morbidity, and mood in patients with chronic systolic heart failure and depression.

Design, Setting, and Participants  The Effects of Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibition on Morbidity, Mortality, and Mood in Depressed Heart Failure Patients (MOOD-HF) study was a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial conducted at 16 tertiary medical centers in Germany. Between March 2009 and February 2014, patients at outpatient clinics with New York Heart Association class II-IV heart failure and reduced left ventricular ejection fraction (<45%) were screened for depression using the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire. Patients with suspected depression were then invited to undergo a Structured Clinical Interview based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) to establish the diagnosis.

Interventions  Patients were randomized 1:1 to receive escitalopram (10-20 mg) or matching placebo in addition to optimal heart failure therapy. Study duration was 24 months.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The composite primary outcome was time to all-cause death or hospitalization. Prespecified secondary outcomes included safety and depression severity at 12 weeks of treatment (including the titration period), which were determined using the 10-item Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (total possible score, 0 to 60; higher scores indicate more severe depression).

Results  A total of 372 patients (mean age, 62 years; 24% female) were randomized and had taken at least 1 dose of study medication when the data and safety monitoring committee recommended the trial be stopped early. During a median participation time of 18.4 months (n = 185) for the escitalopram group and 18.7 months (n = 187) for the placebo group, the primary outcome of death or hospitalization occurred in 116 (63%) patients and 119 (64%) patients, respectively (hazard ratio, 0.99 [95% CI, 0.76 to 1.27]; P = .92). The mean Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale sum score changed from 20.2 at baseline to 11.2 at 12 weeks in the escitalopram group and from 21.4 to 12.5 in the placebo group (between-group difference, −0.9 [95% CI,−2.6 to 0.7]; P = .26). Safety parameters were comparable between groups.

Conclusions and Relevance  In patients with chronic heart failure with reduced ejection fraction and depression, 18 months of treatment with escitalopram compared with placebo did not significantly reduce all-cause mortality or hospitalization, and there was no significant improvement in depression. These findings do not support the use of escitalopram in patients with chronic systolic heart failure and depression.

Trial Registration Identifier: ISRCTN33128015

JAMA. 2016;315(24):2683-2693.

Effect of a Web-Based Guided Self-help Intervention for Prevention of Major Depression in Adults With Subthreshold Depression A Randomized Clinical Trial

Importance  Evidence-based treatments for major depressive disorder (MDD) are not very successful in improving functional and health outcomes. Attention has increasingly been focused on the prevention of MDD.

Objective  To evaluate the effectiveness of a web-based guided self-help intervention for the prevention of MDD.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Two-group randomized clinical trial conducted between March 1, 2013, and March 4, 2015. Participants were recruited in Germany from the general population via a large statutory health insurance company (ie, insurance funded by joint employer-employee contributions). Participants included 406 self-selected adults with subthreshold depression (Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale score ≥16, no current MDD according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [Fourth Edition, Text Revision] criteria).

Interventions  All participants had unrestricted access to usual care (visits to the primary care clinician) and were randomized to either a web-based guided self-help intervention (cognitive-behavioral and problem-solving therapy supported by an online trainer; n = 202) or a web-based psychoeducation program (n = 204).

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome was time to onset of MDD in the intervention group relative to the control group over a 12-month follow-up period as assessed by blinded diagnostic raters using the telephone-administered Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis Disorders at 6- and 12-month follow-up, covering the period to the previous assessment.

Results  Among 406 randomized patients (mean age, 45 years; 73.9% women), 335 (82%) completed the telephone follow-up at 12 months. Fifty-five participants (27%) in the intervention group experienced MDD compared with 84 participants (41%) in the control group. Cox regression analyses controlling for baseline depressive symptom severity revealed a hazard ratio of 0.59 (95% CI, 0.42-0.82; P = .002) at 12-month follow-up. The number needed to treat to avoid 1 new case of MDD was 5.9 (95% CI, 3.9-14.6).

Conclusions and Relevance  Among patients with subthreshold depression, the use of a web-based guided self-help intervention compared with enhanced usual care reduced the incidence of MDD over 12 months. Further research is needed to understand whether the effects are generalizable to both first onset of depression and depression recurrence as well as efficacy without the use of an online trainer.

Trial Registration  German Clinical Trial Registry Identifier: DRKS00004709

JAMA. 2016;315(17):1854-1863

Antidepressant use and risk of cardiovascular outcomes in people aged 20 to 64: cohort study using primary care database

Objective To assess associations between different antidepressant treatments and rates of three cardiovascular outcomes (myocardial infarction, stroke or transient ischaemic attack, and arrhythmia) in people with depression.

Design Cohort study.

Setting UK general practices contributing to the QResearch primary care database.

Participants 238 963 patients aged 20 to 64 years with a first diagnosis of depression between 1 January 2000 and 31 July 2011.

Exposures Antidepressant class (tricyclic and related antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, other antidepressants), dose, duration of use, and commonly prescribed individual antidepressant drugs.

Main outcome measures First diagnoses of myocardial infarction, stroke or transient ischaemic attack, and arrhythmia during five years’ follow-up. Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate hazard ratios, adjusting for potential confounding variables.

Results During five years of follow-up, 772 patients had a myocardial infarction, 1106 had a stroke or transient ischaemic attack, and 1452 were diagnosed as having arrhythmia. No significant associations were found between antidepressant class and myocardial infarction over five years’ follow-up. In the first year of follow-up, patients treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors had a significantly reduced risk of myocardial infarction (adjusted hazard ratio 0.58, 95% confidence interval 0.42 to 0.79) compared with no use of antidepressants; among individual drugs, fluoxetine was associated with a significantly reduced risk (0.44, 0.27 to 0.72) and lofepramine with a significantly increased risk (3.07, 1.50 to 6.26). No significant associations were found between antidepressant class or individual drugs and risk of stroke or transient ischaemic attack. Antidepressant class was not significantly associated with arrhythmia over five years’ follow-up, although the risk was significantly increased during the first 28 days of treatment with tricyclic and related antidepressants (adjusted hazard ratio 1.99, 1.27 to 3.13). Fluoxetine was associated with a significantly reduced risk of arrhythmia (0.74, 0.59 to 0.92) over five years, but citalopram was not significantly associated with risk of arrhythmia even at high doses (1.11, 0.72 to 1.71 for doses ≥40 mg/day).

Conclusions This study found no evidence that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are associated with an increased risk of arrhythmia or stroke/transient ischaemic attack in people diagnosed as having depression between the ages of 20 to 64 or that citalopram is associated with a significantly increased risk of arrhythmia. It found some indication of a reduced risk of myocardial infarction with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, particularly fluoxetine, and of an increased risk with lofepramine.

By Carol Coupland et al, BMJ 2016;352:i1350