AiTBS Superior to ECT in Small Study

May 12, 2020 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

Researchers Erica Jensen and Nolan Williams reported in abstracts of a paper that they were to present at the 2020 meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry in May that daily sessions of accelerated intermittent theta burst transcranial stimulation (aiTBS) over five or more days produced better results in 15 patients hospitalized for depression and suicidality than in matched patients who received electro-convulsive therapy.

AiTBS is a form of repeated transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), in which a magnetic coil is applied to a patient’s scalp, producing electrical changes in the brain.

The aiTBS treatment was delivered to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. It consisted of 1800 pulses per session, at 80% of a patient’s resting motor threshold with a 50-minute inter-session interval.

The patients in the study were matched (for age, gender, and treatment resistance) to patients who were hospitalized and given ECT. Among patients who received aiTBS and were discharged after an average of 8.4 days, there was an 86% response rate and a 73% remission rate. Among the patients who received ECT, who were discharged after an average of 22.3 days, there was a 53% response rate and a 40% remission rate. With further ECT, response and remission rates increased to 73% and 67%. Time to remission was 3.5 days with aiTBS and 31.3 days for ECT. The investigators concluded conservatively, “Our results suggest that aiTBS could have comparable efficacy to ECT, with potentially faster resolution of acute severe depression.”

Editor’s Note: ECT has been the gold standard treatment for severe depression and suicidality and now we may have a platinum comparator. If these findings are replicated, they could represent a paradigm shift in the treatment of severe depression. Hopefully, this novel form of rTMS will be fast-tracked for approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Fish Oil Monotherapy on Depression in Adolescents at High Risk for Bipolar I Disorder: Ambiguity Persists

omega-3 fatty acids
Fish oil supplements

Researcher Robert K. McNamara and colleagues reported in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology in a 2020 article that 12 weeks of treatment with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil did not reduce depression symptoms in adolescents at risk for bipolar disorder when compared to placebo. The primary outcome measured was the results of the Childhood Depression Rating Scale-Revised (CDRS-R).

Fish oil did perform better than placebo on two parts of the rating scale: symptom severity and symptom improvement, especially in weeks 11 and 12 of the study. Omega-3 fatty acids increased creatine and choline in the anterior cingulate, and also increased polyunsaturated fatty acids in red blood cells. The treatment was safe and well-tolerated.

A total of 42 patients between the ages of 9 and 21 who had been diagnosed with depression and had at least one parent with bipolar I disorder received either placebo or 3 fish oil capsules per day. Each capsule contained 450?mg EPA, 40?mg docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), and 260?mg DHA for a total daily dose of 2130?mg EPA + DHA.

Editor’s Note: Ambiguity persists about whether omega-3 fatty acids can improve unipolar or bipolar depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or prevent the progression of schizophrenia symptoms to the full syndrome. Given the lack of side effects, and the documented effects on red blood cells and brain choline, clinical use of these compounds could be considered in some circumstances.

Translocator Protein Levels in Brain Predict Response to Anti-Inflammatory Celecoxib in Major Depressive Disorder

May 5, 2020 · Posted in Brain Imaging, Peer-Reviewed Published Data · Comment 
Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

Gliosis describes changes in glia that result from damage to the central nervous system. Researchers can use PET scans (positron emission tomography) to measure the extent of gliosis in the brain. But a new study explored whether these PET scans could instead be used to determine who might respond to a given medication.

Researcher Sophia Attwells and colleagues reported in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 2020 that people with high levels of translocator protein (TSPO), a measure of gliosis and inflammation, had a better antidepressant response to the anti-inflammatory drug celecoxib than patients who started out with lower levels of TSPO.

The study participants, who had treatment-resistant depression, all received 200mg of the anti-inflammatory drug celecoxib twice/day for eight weeks on an open (non-blind) basis. Before they began taking celecoxib, the participants received PET scans to measure translocator protein total distribution volume (TSPO VT) in the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex.

Patients with high levels of TSPO showed greater reductions in depression ratings over the course of the study than those with normal levels of TSPO at baseline.

Attwells and colleagues conclude that “this personalized medicine approach of matching a marker of gliosis to [an anti-inflammatory treatment] …should be applied in early development of novel therapeutics, in particular for [treatment-resistant depression].”

Editor’s Note: These findings are of considerable importance, as they are among the first to indicate that measures of inflammation may predict response to an anti-inflammatory medication such as celecoxib. In a 2013 article in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, Charles L. Raison and colleagues reported that patients with high levels of the peripheral inflammatory marker CRP saw marked improvement in their depression when they received the anti-inflammatory treatment infliximab while those with lower or normal levels of inflammation actually worsened.

Gabapentin is Effective in Alcohol Use Disorder in Patients with Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Researcher Raymond F. Anton and colleagues reported in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine that compared with placebo, the anticonvulsant medication gabapentin helped people with alcohol use disorders reduce their drinking or abstain from drinking, especially those who had more withdrawal symptoms before treatment.

Ninety-six participants were randomized to receive either placebo or 1200mg/day of gabapentin for 16 weeks.

In the study, 27% of participants who took gabapentin had no heavy drinking days (compared to 9% among those who took placebo) and 18% achieved total abstinence (compared to 4% among those who took placebo). Gabapentin was most effective in those with a history of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. An impressive 41% of participants with high alcohol withdrawal symptoms who took gabapentin achieved total abstinence compared with 1% of participants in the placebo group.

Gabapentin, which is used to treat epilepsy, influences GABA and glutamate transmitters and inhibits the alpha 2gamma-1 voltage sensitive calcium channel, which is upregulated in chronic alcohol exposure.

Better One-Year Clinical Outcomes After Four Weeks of Theta Burst Stimulation for PTSD Than After Two Weeks

April 28, 2020 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data, Potential Treatments · Comment 
Theta burst stimulation.

In a 2019 article in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, Nicholas J. Petrosino and colleagues described findings from one year of follow-up with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who received intermittent theta burst transcranial magnetic stimulation (iTBS) in a four-week crossover study.

In the first two weeks of the study, half of the 50 participants (who were mostly male and had an average age of 51) received iTBS while the others were given a sham procedure. Then all the participants received iTBS on an open (non-blind) basis for two more weeks.

At one month, those who had received four total weeks of iTBS had better outcomes than those who had received only two weeks of active iTBS. These results were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2019 in an article by Noah S. Philip and colleagues.

The researchers went on to look at longer-term outcomes, namely time until relapse (a major event such as a re-hospitalization or suicide). After one year, those who received four weeks of iTBS went 9 to 11 months without relapsing (296.0 days ± 22.1), while those who received only two weeks of iTBS went 5 to 7 months before relapsing (182.0 days ± 31.9).

It seems that more iTBS may be better than less iTBS for PTSD in both the short and long term.

Cannabis Use in Adolescence Linked to Depression and Suicidality in Young Adulthood

April 24, 2020 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data, Risk Factors · Comment 
Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

In a meta-analysis published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2019, researcher Gabriella Gobbi and colleagues analyzed findings from 11 studies including a total of 23,317 participants and found that cannabis use in adolescence (before age 18) was associated with a significantly increased risk of depression, suicidality, and suicide attempts in young adulthood (between 18 and 32 years of age).

The researchers did not find a link between cannabis use and anxiety.

Editor’s Note: Cannabis use is not as harmless as many teens may believe.

In Animal Model, Long-Term THC Exposure Interferes with Cortical Control of the Nucleus Accumbens

April 21, 2020 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data, Risk Factors · Comment 
Cannabis plant. Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

In an article in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers Eun-Kyung Hwang and Carl R. Lupica reported that in rats, long-term use of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) weakens input from the cortex to the reward area of the brain, the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Long-term THC use also strengthens connections to the NAc from emotional control (limbic) regions, such as the basolateral amygdala and ventral hippocampus. Hwang and Lupica reason that this shift from cortical control of the NAc to limbic control likely contributes to the cognitive and psychiatric symptoms associated with cannabis use.

Editor’s Note: Street marijuana largely contains THC rather than CBD, the beneficial, anxiety-reducing component of cannabis. Cannabis products are being decriminalized, but it is important to remember that those with THC are linked to cannabis use disorder and increased susceptibility to psychiatric illness. Patients with bipolar disorder who use marijuana also have a more adverse course of illness than those who do not use it.

One Hit of THC Tied to Psychotic Symptoms in Adults with No History of Mental Illness

April 17, 2020 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data, Risk Factors · Comment 
A woman rolls a joint. Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

In a meta-analysis published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, researcher Guy Hindley and colleagues reported that in otherwise healthy adults, a single dose of THC (equivalent to smoking one joint) produced transient psychotic symptoms.

The meta-analysis included 9 studies with a total of 196 participants. The researchers included studies in which participants took tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana) or placebo, and psychotic symptoms were measured.

The researchers also sought out studies in which cannabidiol or CBD was given in combination with THC, but there were not enough of these to derive significant results. CBD does not produce schizophrenia-like symptoms on its own, and some think it may have anti-psychotic effects, but findings on this topic have been mixed.

Taking THC had a large effect size on total psychotic symptoms and negative symptom severity (such as emotional flatness or avolition). It also had an effect on positive symptom severity (for example, hallucinations or delusions). The effects were larger with intravenous administration than with inhaled administration, and tobacco smokers had less severe positive symptoms.

Of four studies that included CBD, only one found that CBD reduced THC-induced psychotic symptoms.

Editor’s Note: Longer-term use of marijuana in adolescents and young adults doubles the risk of psychosis, and other data suggest that chronic use of marijuana at high doses can be associated with new onset of a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. As cannabis products are being decriminalized around the US, it is worth noting some of the risks of marijuana use, particularly marijuana with a high level of THC.

Dr. Post’s Recommendations For Treating Youth with Bipolar Symptoms

April 14, 2020 · Posted in Current Treatments, Potential Treatments · Comment 

Teens

Our Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Robert M. Post, shares his personal recommendations for the treatment of children and adolescents with symptoms of bipolar disorder. Remember: Patients and family members must consult a physician about all information conveyed in the BNN. With the exception of lithium, none of the medications or supplements discussed above have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in children under 10. The findings reported here are in many cases preliminary and cannot be taken as recommendations based on the short summaries provided here. All treatment decisions must be made in conjunction with a patient’s treating physician, who is solely responsible for initiating any treatment discussed in the BNN or elsewhere.

In symptomatic and functionally impaired children, medication is almost always necessary. Many treating psychiatrists would start with an atypical antipsychotic, since there is clear evidence of the efficacy of such treatments. The side effects profile should be considered, as there is a considerable difference in the degree of weight gain associated with different atypical antipsychotics. The largest weight gains occur with olanzapine and clozapine, intermediate gains occur with aripiprazole and quetiapine, and the least gains occur with ziprasidone and lurasidone (and the latter has the advantage of being approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of bipolar depression in children who are 10–17 years old). The addition of the diabetes drug metformin to decrease weight gain in people taking atypical antipsychotics is increasingly common.

The addition of an anticonvulsant medication (such as lamotrigine, carbamazepine/oxcarbazepine, or valproate) or the mood stabilizer lithium may be needed, as multiple studies indicate that combination treatment is typically needed in children (as in adults) to achieve a more complete response or remission.

Interestingly, oxcarbazepine was effective in younger but not older children with mania in a previous placebo-controlled study by Karen D. Wagner and colleagues published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2006.

Conversely, in a 2015 article in the journal JAACAP, researcher Robert Findling reported that in a placebo-controlled study of lamotrigine, 13–17-year-olds responded better than 10–12-year-olds.
Lithium treatment deserves consideration in children with classical presentations of bipolar disorder and those who have family members who have responded well to lithium treatment.

Lithium has the benefit of improving the white matter abnormalities seen in the brains of patients with early-onset bipolar disorder. Hafeman and colleagues reported in a 2019 article that children with bipolar disorder who were treated with lithium had better long-term results upon follow up than those treated with atypical antipsychotics or anticonvulsants.

There is much less scientific consensus about other adjunctive treatments for young people with additional bipolar symptoms and comorbidities, but this editor often uses several. Vitamin D3 is often low in children with psychiatric illness, and may improve mood and cognition.

The antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) helps depression, anxiety, and irritability, and is effective at treating habit-related behaviors such as trichotillomania (compulsive hair-pulling), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and drug use, including specifically reducing marijuana use in adolescents. A typical dose is 500–600 mg capsules, one capsule twice a day for one week, then two capsules in the morning and two in the evening thereafter.

Folate or folic acid may enhance antidepressant effects and those of lithium. In patients who have a particular low-functioning variant of a gene known as MTHFR, L-methylfolate is required instead of folate.

The widely-used supplement acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) is poorly studied in children, but deserves consideration as a supplemental treatment for patients with histories of childhood adversity. In adults with depression, blood levels of ALC may be low, particularly in those with an early onset of bipolar symptoms and a history of childhood adversity (see a 2018 article by Carla Nasca in the journal PNAS). There is a modicum of evidence that ALC produces antidepressant effects in adults. ALC may also sensitize insulin receptors and normalize blood pressure.

There is increasing evidence of the role of inflammation in depression, mania, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia. Checking for abnormalities in inflammatory markers in the blood (especially Il-6 and CRP) may point the way to appropriate therapy with anti-inflammatory drugs such as minocycline (100 mg twice a day) or celecoxib (200 mg twice a day) in patients who do not respond fully to first-line medications.

Treating Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in Children at Risk

April 10, 2020 · Posted in Current Treatments, Diagnosis · Comment 

At the 2019 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, one symposium was devoted to new research on predicting onset of bipolar disorder in children who have a family history of the disorder. Below are some of the findings that were reported. See previous articles for more on this symposium.

Sub-Threshold Bipolar Disorder or BP-NOS is Impairing and Requires Treatment

In research Danella M. Hafeman’s research, children with BP-NOS were almost as ill as those with bipolar I disorder (BP I) and experienced equal incidence of suicide attempts, substance abuse, other simultaneous psychiatric diagnoses, and functional impairment, clearly indicating that they were in need of treatment. About 50–65% of participants with a family history of bipolar disorder converted from diagnoses of BP-NOS to BP I, while those with BP-NOS and no family history of bipolar disorder converted to BP I at rates of about 30–48%.

Several presenters presented data showing that those with sub-threshold bipolar disorder had severe functional impairment, a high incidence of suicide attempts, and additional diagnoses including ADHD, conduct disorder, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Diagnostic Tool Can Help Identify Children with Bipolar Disorder

Researcher Amy Yule indicated that a tool called the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) is effective for making the diagnosis of conduct disorder in children with bipolar disorder, while researcher Joseph Biederman showed that the CBCL can also identify children with bipolar I disorder and is faster and simpler to use in clinical practice than are full structured diagnostic interviews.
Researcher Janet Wozniak found that there was a high incidence of bipolar disorder in first-degree relatives of children with sub-threshold bipolar disorder, suggesting the validity of identifying youth with sub-threshold bipolar symptoms.

As discussed above, there is also a high incidence of children with BP-NOS progressing to a full diagnosis of bipolar I or II disorder (as many as 50% of those with a family history of bipolar disorder). However, the point is not to wait for the negative effects of a full diagnosis before beginning treatment: BP-NOS itself requires treatment.

Discussion and Emerging Consensus on Treatment, Particularly of BP-NOS

Experts in the field agree that family focused therapy (FFT) or its equivalent is a crucial first step to treatment of depression, cyclothymia (cycling between depressive and hypomanic symptoms that do not meet the threshold for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder), and BP-NOS in children who are at high risk of bipolar disorder because they have a parent with the disorder.

A second area of agreement is that young people with BP-NOS should have a positive therapeutic coach (which could be a treating physician if no other person is available), who can emphasize important early steps that can improve short- and long-term health. These include maintaining a healthy diet, exercise (such as participation in school sports), the practice of mindfulness and/or meditation, and playing and practicing a musical instrument. Parental support is also critical to decreasing negative expressed emotion.

Early interventions and wellness programs that focus on these factors are part of the successful Vermont Family Based Approach, led by psychiatrist Jim Hudziak, Director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth, and Families. Since programs like these are not widely available, treating physicians must create their own teams to provide such encouragement, and teach families how to find or establish such a support network.

School teachers should be engaged in support of the treatment of a child with bipolar disorder. Teachers should pay special attention to behavioral symptoms of an ill child. It also may be important for physicians to connect directly with teachers to ensure that children recovering from an episode of bipolar disorder receive extra time for assignments, a decreased academic burden, and other support. Researcher Manon H. Hillegers indicated that intervention by a physician will likely be listened to and believed, while parental requests alone to teachers or to the school may go ignored.

Hillegers, like researcher Lakshmi Yatham and colleagues, have found that it takes a year after a first manic episode for a child’s cognition to return to normal, so that special allowances should be made for such students even many months after they have recovered from their mania.

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