There is a major problem of overweight and obesity in the US, with about 50% of the population affected. Patients with mood disorders, and particularly bipolar disorder, appear to be at increased risk for weight gain, which often accompanies depression. Thus, it is important that when treating these patients, doctors prescribe medications with low likelihood of weight gain.
Among the atypical antipsychotics that are widely used not only in schizophrenia but also in bipolar disorder and sometimes as adjunctive treatments in unipolar depression, there are wide differences in potential for weight gain and alterations in metabolic indices such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood glucose. Clozapine and olanzapine convey the greatest risk for abnormalities in these indices; risperidone and quetiapine convey moderate risk, and aripiprazole and ziprasidone are the least likely to affect metabolic indices. Newly approved lurasidone also has a mild side-effects profile.
The atypical ziprasidone (Geodon) appears to be truly weight-neutral and to have minimal impact on metabolic indices, but is not widely used due to two potential complications, neither of which must necessarily cause problems. One is the difficulty of dose titration with this drug. Surprisingly, low doses of the drug may be somewhat activating. (Atypicals are usually sedating.) Studies suggest that starting treatment with higher doses or increasing doses more quickly may be better tolerated. So rather than starting at 20mg twice a day, 40mg twice a day with rapid increases towards the range of 80mg twice a day may be associated with better tolerability. Read more
In an open study of bipolar disorder treatment, Shefali Srivastava, Terence Ketter and colleagues at Stanford University evaluated ziprasidone as an aid to patients unresponsive to other medications. This study was part of the multi-center research program Systematic Treatment and Evaluation Program for Bipolar Disorder, or STEP-BD. During naturalistic treatment, ziprasidone was added to an average of 3.6 other psychotropic medications and 1.2 other nonpsychotropic medications patients had already been prescribed. The researchers found substantial improvement in mood with ziprasidone, particularly in the patients who had symptomatic levels of depression at baseline. The research team also observed a mean weight decrease from 195 + 50lbs at baseline to 183 + 47lbs at the final visit, with 34.3% of the patients achieving at least a 7% weight loss with ziprasidone.
Mean trial duration was 860 + 700 days, with no subsequent psychotropic agents added in 51.2% of the patients who had a mean trial duration of 221 + 272 days. Ziprasidone was discontinued in 57.3% of the 82 trials after a mean of 208 + 364 days. This was due to side effects in 26.8% of the participants and due to inefficacy for mood in 23.2%.
The investigators concluded that in bipolar patients treated naturalistically with complex pharmacotherapy, ziprasidone decreased overall bipolar illness severity, was helpful in patients with substantial depression at baseline, and also yielded clinically significant weight loss in about one-third of the patients.
Editor’s note: These data are notable because they support ziprasidone’s pattern of weight neutrality and because of the overall improvement in mood symptomatology the drug brought about. Read more
A comprehensive review of ziprasidone’s effect on the QTc interval, a measure of electrical activity in the heart, has been completed by John Kane of the Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, NY. He and his colleagues reviewed relevant data that had been published over the past decade. Ziprasidone can prolong the QTc interval, which theoretically puts a person at risk for cardiac arrhythmias. Kane and colleagues concluded that the effect of ziprasidone on the QTc interval is related to dose and to the patient’s baseline QTc interval.
The QTc prolongation appears to plateau at the higher end of the usual clinical dose range of ziprasidone. In their review, the researchers found no cases of a QTc interval greater than 480 milliseconds, which is thought to be the threshold for developing vulnerability to arrhythmias. Additionally, no deaths were attributed to ziprasidone in any of the studies reviewed.
Ziprasidone side effects differ in different mood states
Keming Gao from Case-Western Reserve University reviewed the adverse effects of ziprasidone monotherapy in the treatment of patients with bipolar depression, mania, or schizophrenia. Gao noted that akathisia (restless legs) and other extrapyramidal side effects (such as tremor or speech problems) during mania were more common among patients on ziprasidone than among those on placebo, and these effects were more often found in patients with mania than those with depression.
Editor’s note: The finding that these extrapyramidal side effects are more common during mania is interesting because it runs contrary to findings on another atypical antipsychotic, aripiprazole. Aripiprazole is a partial dopamine agonist, meaning it partially activates dopamine receptors, and bipolar depressed patients on aripiprazole experience more akathisia than patients taking aripiprazole for mania or schizophrenia do.
Ziprasidone fully blocks dopamine receptors, and this may explain why its effects on dopamine turnover may, in contrast to aripiprazole, convey greater risk for extrapyramidal side effects in mania than in depression. This is unusual since most side effects tend to be more prominent during the depressive phases than manic phases of the illness. The reasons for this reversal with ziprasidone deserve further investigation and clarification.
New Atypical Antipsychotic Lurasidone Appears To Improve Schizophrenia Without Weight-Gain Side Effects
A study by a research group that included Antony Loebel of pharmaceutical company Sunovion; Steven Potkin of the University of California, Irvine; and Herbert Meltzer from Vanderbilt University summarizes data on a new atypical antipsychotic FDA-approved for treatment of schizophrenia. This agent, lurasidone (Latuda), was studied in a double-blind, placebo-controlled six-week trial in patients with schizophrenia.
The drug is a new psychotropic agent that has a high affinity for dopamine D2 receptors and serotonin 5HT2A, 5HT1A, and 5HT7 receptors. (New data suggest that antagonistic effects on 5HT7 receptors may be related to antidepressant efficacy.)
In the study, patients were randomized to receive lurasidone at 80mg/day, lurasidone at 160mg/day, quetiapine XR at 600mg/day, or placebo. Evening dosing was used. Both dose levels of lurasidone resulted in significant degrees of improvement compared with quetiapine XR and placebo.
The side effects profile for lurasidone was also promising; patients were no more likely to gain weight on lurasidone than on placebo, while there was a mean 2kg weight increase on quetiapine XR. In addition, total cholesterol and triglycerides on both doses of lurasidone were similar to that on placebo, in contrast to small but significant increases on quetiapine XR.
There were significant increases in levels of prolactin (a hormone related to lactation, sex function, and bone demineralization) on lurasidone at both 80mg (+ 0.8mg/dl) and 160mg (+ 3mg/dl), while small decreases in prolactin were observed on quetiapine XR (-0.3 mg/dl) and on placebo (-0.8 mg/dl).
The data suggest that lurasidone is effective in the treatment of patients with acute exacerbation of schizophrenia, with significant effects occurring as early as day 4. This study had a low rate of adverse events. Read more
Shannon Stepan, Eric Peselow and Nunzio Pomara from Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY, have analyzed naturalistic observations of long-term maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder with valproic acid, lithium, and carbamazepine and found that patients on lithium went much longer before experiencing an episode of mania or depression than patients taking carbamazepine or valproate.
The team followed 225 outpatients for up to 124 months, or until they had a manic or depressive episode or dropped out of the study during a well phase. Ninety-eight patients took lithium, 78 took valproate, and 50 took carbamazepine. Fifty-two percent of the participants dropped out of the study during a well phase.
One hundred three patients (45.8%) had either a manic or depressive episode during the study. This included 36.7% of the patients taking lithium, 55% of patients taking valproate, and 50% of patients taking carbamazepine. Median time until a first episode was 45 months for the entire sample, 36 months for those patients on valproate, 42 months for those on carbamazepine, and 81 months for those on lithium. A statistical analysis known as a Cox regression model indicated that patients taking valproate had a significantly higher risk of having a manic or depressive episode than those taking lithium.
Editor’s note: These naturalistic data are highly consistent with a number of more controlled clinical studies. In particular, the BALANCE study by Geddes et al. (2010) reported that lithium was superior to valproate on most outcome measures in a two-year randomized study, and that the combination of lithium and valproate was significantly better than valproate alone. Read more
Intravenous ketamine has consistently been found to bring about almost immediate antidepressant effects (usually within two or three hours), which can last three to five days in duration. Typical doses are 0.5 mg/kg IV infusion over 40 minutes. A new abstract presented at the meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians in 2010 indicated that when patients received 0.2 mg/kg ketamine infused over a period of 1-2 minutes, suicidal ideation decreased within 40 minutes. Fourteen of 15 subjects were no longer suicidal after the infusion, and in 13 of those 14 the improvement was sustained at follow-up ten days later.
Editor’s note: Such rapidly occurring, robust antidepressant/antisuicidal effects from IV ketamine continue to suggest that it is useful for emergency room therapeutic maneuvers.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial for patients with bipolar disorder, Martin Alda and colleagues from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia found that the compound methylene blue was an effective augmentation for mood stablizers. Methylene blue inhibits nitric oxide synthetase and guanylate cyclase, the overproduction of which might be associated with neuronal damage. Since bipolar disorder has consistently been associated with neuronal and glial cell dysfunction and loss, methylene blue could be a promising treatment.
Methylene blue turns urine blue, so in place of a placebo the researchers used very low doses (15 mg daily) of methylene blue compared with the active dose of 195 mgs daily.
Thirty-seven patients were enrolled in the randomized 26-week trial, and all patients were treated with lamotrigine as their primary mood stabilizer and with any additional medications they were already taking. Patients entered in a well or euthymic state (n =20), mildly depressed (n=14), or while minimally cycling (n = 3).
Scores on both the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale and the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression improved significantly, with an effect size of 0.47 and 0.42, respectively. Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale scores also improved significantly with an effect size of 0.46.
Methylene blue was well tolerated, with only transient and mild side effects observed. However, the FDA has issued a warning that using methylene blue with serotonin active agents can lead to a severe serotonin syndrome (because methylene blue is a potent inhibitor of MAO-A and will increase brain serotonin levels when used in conjunction with serotonin active antidepressants). Symptoms of serotonin syndrome can include confusion, hyperactivity, sweating, fever, shivering, diarrhea, trouble with coordination, and even seizures.
The researchers at Dalhousie University concluded that methylene blue used as an adjunctive medication to lamotrigine and other previously inadequately effective agents (only those which are NOT serotonin active) significantly improved depression and anxiety in patients with bipolar disorder. They proposed further exploration of the mechanisms involved in this change, with the possibility that other drugs with similar actions could also be effective in this disorder.
The B vitamin folate has been shown to be a useful augmentation treatment for patients who are nonresponsive or only partially responsive to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants. Treatment with folate works even in those who are not folate-deficient at baseline.
When folate is broken down in the body by reductase enzymes, it turns into the active form L-methylfolate, and crosses the blood-brain barrier. Giovanni Fava and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) performed two placebo-controlled, randomized studies of L-methylfolate for depression. There was significantly greater improvement when SSRIs were augmented with L-methylfolate than when they were augmented with placebo. The results were significant with the use of 15mg of L-methylfolate, but not with 7.5mg, suggesting dose-related effects. Read more
We have previously written about a study of supra-physiological doses of levothyroxine (a synthetic version of the hormone T4 sold under the brand name Synthroid) performed by Mike Bauer and colleagues in Dresden, Germany and at UCLA. Sixty-three patients were initially treated with an antidepressant and/or a mood stabilizer for one week during a single-blind phase. Then the six-week double-blind phase of the study began, in which patients were given either adjunctive T4 (in the form of levothyroxine ) or placebo, and this was followed by an additional six weeks of open treatment with T4. Patients were started at 100mcg and increased on a weekly basis to 200 and then 300mcg/day.
Overall, T4 had no statistically significant effect that differentiated it from placebo, but among women, there was a significantly greater degree of improvement in the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression scores for those on T4 (-42.4%) than for those on placebo (-16.6%), p= .018.
Editor’s note: This study is the first randomized, placebo-controlled trial of supra-physiological doses of T4. A small series of reports in the literature from several different investigative groups had previously suggested efficacy of this compound in rapid cycling and treatment-resistant patients. Read more
Anil Malhotra from the Zucker Hillside Hospital found that pramipexole (Mirapex), a dopamine D2 and D3 agonist used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, improved measures of processing speed and working memory in euthymic bipolar patients (whose average age was 42) when compared with placebo in an adjunctive clinical trial.
Editor’s Note: Bipolar patients in a euthymic phase have consistently been shown to have some degree of cognitive dysfunction that is typically correlated with the number of prior depressive and/or manic episodes they have experienced. This is one of the first studies to directly target this cognitive dysfunction with a pharmacotherapeutic agent.
Pramipexole may be of additional value among depressed patients, because in two small, placebo-controlled studies, one led by Carlos Zarate at the National Institute of Mental Health and one led by Joseph F. Goldberg in New York, pramipexole has been shown to exert acute antidepressant effects in bipolar patients in the depressive phase of the illness. The new data from Malhotra raise the possibility that there could be a two-for-one benefit when pramipexole is used in the depressive phase of bipolar illness—improvement in both depression and cognition.