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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013 Sep;38(10):1921-8. doi: 10.1038/npp.2013.85. Epub 2013 Apr 10.

The impact of escitalopram on IL-2-induced neuroendocrine, immune, and behavioral changes in patients with malignant melanoma: preliminary findings.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Miami Leonard H. Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida 33146,, USA.


Interleukin (IL)-2, a T-cell cytokine used to treat malignant melanoma, can induce profound depression. To determine whether pretreatment with the antidepressant escitalopram could reduce IL-2-induced neuroendocrine, immune, and neurobehavioral changes, 20 patients with Stage IV melanoma were randomized to either placebo or the serotonin reuptake inhibitor, escitalopram (ESC) 10-20 mg/day, 2 weeks before, and during IL-2 treatment (720 000 units/kg Q8 h × 5 days (1 cycle) every 3 weeks × 4 cycles). Generalized estimation equations were used to examine HPA axis activity (plasma ACTH and cortisol), immune activation (plasma IL-6), and depressive symptoms (Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) score). Tolerance of IL-2 treatment (concomitant medications required) and adherence (number of IL-2 doses received) were also assessed. Both the groups (ESC (n=9), placebo (n=11)) exhibited significant IL-2-induced increases in plasma cortisol, IL-6, and depressive symptoms (p<0.05), as well as a temporal trend for increases in plasma ACTH (p=0.054); the effects of age and treatment were not significant. Higher plasma ACTH concentrations were associated with higher depressive symptoms during cycles 1-3 of IL-2 therapy (p<0.01). Although ESC had no significant effects on ACTH, cortisol, IL-6, tolerance of, or adherence to IL-2, ESC treatment was associated with lower depressive symptoms, ie, a maximal difference of ∼3 points on the HDRS, which, though not statistically significant (in part, due to small sample size), represents a clinically significant difference according to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines. A larger sample size will establish whether antidepressant pretreatment can prevent IL-2-induced neurobehavioral changes.

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