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Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2012 Aug;2(4):139-49. doi: 10.1177/2045125312436597.

Metyrapone in treatment-resistant depression.

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1
Institution of Neurosciences - Academic Psychiatry, Campus for Ageing and Vitality, Westgate Road, Newcastle NE4 6BE, UK.

Abstract

Depression affects a significant proportion of the population, with 1-year and lifetime prevalence of 3-5% and 10-30% respectively. Full remission is achieved in only a third of patients following treatment with first-line antidepressant. There is a need for novel treatments for treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis has been described in patients with depression. There is persistent rise in the levels of cortisol (end product of the HPA axis) and impairment of the negative feedback inhibition mechanism of the HPA axis. Dysregulation of the HPA axis has been found to be linked to nonresponse to antidepressants and relapse following successful treatment. The efficacy of pharmacological agents that intervene with the mechanisms involved in dysregulation of cortisol synthesis and release are being explored in depression, particularly in TRD. Studies have been carried out with these drugs as augmenting agents for antidepressants or as monotherapy. The strongest evidence has come from studies using metyrapone, a cortisol synthesis inhibitor, and this has been described in detail in this review. The most robust evidence for its antidepressant efficacy in depression comes from a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of augmentation of serotonergic antidepressants with metyrapone. A 3-week augmentation of serotonergic antidepressants with 1 g metyrapone daily was shown to be superior to placebo in reducing the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale by 50%, 5 weeks following initiation of treatment. The mechanism of the antidepressant action of metyrapone is not clear but the evidence for various potential mechanisms is discussed.

KEYWORDS:

antidepressant; antiglucocorticoid; depression; hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis; metyrapone; treatment resistant

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