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Differential pattern of response in mood symptoms and suicide risk measures in severely ill depressed patients assigned to citalopram with placebo or citalopram combined with lithium: role of lithium levels.

Author(s): Khan A, Khan SR, Hobus J, Faucett J, Mehra V, Giller EL, Rudolph RL.

Affiliation(s): Northwest Clinical Research Center, Bellevue, WA 98007, USA. akhan@nwcrc.net

Publication date & source: 2011, J Psychiatr Res. , 45(11):1489-96

The assumption that antidepressants may reduce suicide risk by reducing depressive symptoms is not based on data. Further, it is unclear if the retrospectively based anti-suicidal effects of lithium can be prospectively evaluated using lithium as an augmenting agent to antidepressants. To verify our hypothesis, we designed and conducted an exploratory proof of concept trial of four weeks duration using a randomized, double-blind, parallel group method. Forty patients were assigned to citalopram + lithium and 40 were assigned to citalopram + placebo. The primary dependent measures were the Sheehan-Suicidality Tracking Scale (S-STS) and the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS). The reduction of S-STS scores was large (43%) and twice that seen in MADRS scores (25%) among the eighty patients included in the trial. Both response (χ(2) = 8.8, p < 0.01) and remission (χ(2) = 4.6, p = 0.03) rates showed similar patterns. There were no significant differences in mean total S-STS change scores among patients assigned to citalopram with placebo (4.8 ± 5.1) and patients assigned to citalopram with lithium (5.1 ± 5.2). When explored further, a subgroup of the patients assigned to citalopram and lithium achieved therapeutic serum levels and had significantly higher S-STS remission rates (45% compared to 19%, p < 0.05). There were no deaths by suicide or other causes indicating that trials enrolling acutely suicidal patients are feasible. These results suggest that citalopram may have a direct therapeutic effect on suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Further, lithium when used in therapeutic doses may augment such effects. These data warrant further exploration of lithium and an antidepressant combination for anti-suicidal effects.

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