Brain activity prior to treatment flags vulnerability to antidepressant side effects

In a finding that opens new doors to determining susceptibility to antidepressant side effects, researchers at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute report that changes in brain activity prior to treatment with antidepressants can flag patient vulnerability.

Published in the April 2005 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the study is the first to link brain function and medication side effects, and to show a relationship between brain function changes during brief placebo treatment and later side effects during treatment with medication.

The study's unique design compares brain function changes in healthy research subjects with no history of depression while taking an antidepressant vs. placebo, a pill with inactive ingredients. In addition, all participants took only placebo for one week prior to randomization to medication or placebo.

Using "cordance," a quantitative electroencephalography (QEEG) imaging technique developed at UCLA, the research team found changes in brain function in the prefrontal region during the one-week placebo lead-in were related to side effects in subjects who received an antidepressant.

"This finding shows the promise of new ways for assessing susceptibility to antidepressant side effects," said Aimee M. Hunter, lead author and research fellow at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.

"The ability to identify individuals who are at greatest risk of side effects would greatly improve the success rate of antidepressant treatment," Hunter said. "For example, physicians might select a medication with a lower side-effect profile, start medication at a lower dose or opt for psychotherapy alone when treating patients susceptible to antidepressant side effects."

Antidepressant side effects can be related to medication or to factors such as patient expectations derived from educational materials or consultations with a physician, but determining vulnerability or cause in a clin

Contact: Dan Page
University of California - Los Angeles

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