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Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2018 Sep 1. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyy051. [Epub ahead of print]

Neurophysiological Changes Associated with Antidepressant Response to Ketamine Not Observed in a Negative Trial of Scopolamine in Major Depressive Disorder.

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Experimental Therapeutics and Pathophysiology Branch, Intramural Research Program, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
Janssen Research and Development, LLC, La Jolla, California.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.



This randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial examined the antidepressant efficacy of the muscarinic antagonist scopolamine in major depressive disorder subjects with more severe and refractory forms of major depressive disorder relative to previous reports.


Participants included 23 medication-free major depressive disorder subjects (12 F/11 M, 20-55 years) currently experiencing a major depressive episode. Subjects had scored ≥20 on the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale. Following a single-blind, placebo lead-in, participants were randomized to receive 2 counterbalanced blocks of 3 i.v. infusions of scopolamine (4 μg/kg) and placebo in a double-blind manner. The primary and secondary outcomes were the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale and the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, respectively. Magnetoencephalography and plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor concentrations were obtained prior to and after each treatment phase.


As assessed by both the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale and Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, scopolamine had no significant antidepressant or anxiolytic effects relative to placebo. No significant drug vs placebo effects were seen in magnetoencephalography gamma power or brain-derived neurotrophic factor plasma concentrations, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor changes did not correlate with change in Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale score in response to scopolamine.


These results do not support the efficacy of scopolamine for more severe or refractory forms of depression. No pre- to post-infusion changes in plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor were detected, and magnetoencephalography gamma power changed only in the placebo lead-in, suggesting that these biomarker measures were not affected by scopolamine in this cohort. While difficult to interpret given the lack of antidepressant response, the findings suggest that the neurobiological effects of ketamine and scopolamine are at least partly distinct.


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