Recombinant human erythropoietin to target cognitive dysfunction in bipolar disorder: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial

Miskowiak KW, Ehrenreich H, Christensen EM, Kessing LV, Vinberg M

J Clin Psychiatry. 2014 Dec;75(12):1347-55.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: Available drug treatments for bipolar disorder fail to reverse patients’ cognitive deficits. Erythropoietin has neurotrophic actions and aids neurocognitive function. The aim of the study was to investigate the potential of erythropoietin to treat cognitive dysfunction in bipolar disorder.

METHOD: Patients with an ICD-10 diagnosis of bipolar disorder in remission were randomized, with stratification by age and gender, to receive 8 weekly erythropoietin (40,000 IU) or saline (sodium chloride [NaCl], 0.9%) infusions in a double-blind, parallel-group design. The first patient was randomized in September 2009 and last assessment was completed in October 2012. Patients were assessed at baseline and at weeks 9 and 14. The primary outcome was change in verbal memory indexed by the total words recalled across Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test learning trials (I-V) from baseline to week 9; secondary outcomes were sustained attention and facial expression recognition; and tertiary outcomes were attention, executive function, subjective cognitive function, and mood. Analysis was by intention to treat, using repeated-measures analysis of covariance adjusted for stratification variables and mood. The statistical threshold for which results were considered significant was P ≤ .05 (2-tailed).

RESULTS: 44 patients were randomized; given 1 dropout after baseline, results were analyzed for 43 patients (erythropoietin: n = 23; saline: n = 20). There was no significant improvement of verbal memory in erythropoietin versus saline groups (P = .10). However, erythropoietin enhanced sustained attention (P = .001), recognition of happy faces (P = .03), and speed of complex information processing across learning, attention, and executive function (P = .01). These effects occurred in absence of changes in simple reaction times or mood (P values ≥ .16) and were maintained after red blood cell normalization.

CONCLUSIONS: This is the first trial investigating erythropoietin to treat cognitive dysfunction in bipolar disorder. The findings highlight erythropoietin as a candidate treatment for deficits in attention and executive function in bipolar disorder.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT00916552.

Recombinant human erythropoietin for treating treatment-resistant depression: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial

Miskowiak KW, Vinberg M, Christensen EM, Bukh JD, Harmer CJ, Ehrenreich H, Kessing LV

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2014 May;39(6):1399-408.

Abstract

Pharmacological treatments for depression have insufficient efficacy in 30-40% of patients and fail to reverse cognitive deficits. Erythropoietin (EPO) has neurotrophic actions and aids neurocognitive function. The aim of this exploratory study was to determine whether recombinant human EPO improves mood and memory in treatment-resistant depression. Forty treatment-resistant depressed unipolar patients with Hamilton Depression Rating Scale-17 (HDRS-17) score ≥ 17 were randomized to eight weekly EPO (Eprex; 40,000 IU) or saline infusions in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group design. Patients were assessed at baseline and at weeks 5, 9, and 14. Primary outcome was reduction in HDRS-17 score. Global assessment of function (GAF) was reported in addition. Secondary outcome was remission rate, and tertiary outcomes were changes in Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT), Beck Depression Inventory-21 (BDI-21), and World Health Organization Quality of life-BREF (WHOQOL-BREF). Exploratory outcomes were depression and cognition composite scores. HDRS-17, GAF, and remission rates showed no effects of EPO over saline at week 9 (P-value ≥ 0.09). However, EPO improved BDI (P=0.02) and WHOQOL-BREF (P=0.01), and this was maintained at follow-up week 14 (P-values ≤ 0.04). EPO enhanced verbal recall (P=0.02) and recognition (P=0.03), which was sustained at follow-up (P-values ≤ 0.04). Exploratory analysis in patients fulfilling depression severity criteria at trial start revealed ameliorated HDRS-17 in EPO (N=14) vs saline groups (N=17), which was sustained at week 14 (P-values ≤ 0.05). Exploratory analysis in the complete cohort showed that EPO reduced depression composite at weeks 9 and 14 (P-values=0.02). The findings of this exploratory study highlight EPO as an interesting compound for treatment-resistant depression, which deserves further investigation.

Fewer study participants needed to demonstrate superior antidepressant efficacy when using the Hamilton melancholia subscale (HAM-D6) as outcome measure

Ostergaard SD, Bech P, Miskowiak KW

J Affect Disord. 2014 Nov 7. 

Abstract
BACKGROUND:
In the development of new antidepressant treatments, the failed study has unfortunately become a prevalent problem. The number of failed studies could probably be reduced significantly by applying more informative outcome measures. Previous studies have indicated that the 6-item melancholia subscale (HAM-D6) of the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D17) may be more informative than other scales, due to its superior psychometric properties. In the present study we investigated whether the HAM-D6 had higher informativeness than the HAM-D17 based on data from a randomized placebo-controlled trial (RCT) testing the effect of erythropoietin (EPO) as augmentation therapy in patients with treatment-resistant depression.
METHODS:
We assessed the scalability (Mokken analysis of unidimensionality), responsiveness (item responsiveness analysis) and ability to show drug-placebo separation (estimation of sample size needed to detect statistically significant difference between EPO and placebo) of the HAM-D6 and the HAM-D17.
RESULTS:
The HAM-D6 demonstrated higher scalability, higher responsiveness, and better drug-placebo separation compared to the HAM-D17. As a consequence, only 39 participants per group would be required to detect a statistically significant difference between EPO and placebo when using the HAM-D6 as outcome measure, whereas the required group size for HAM-D17 would be 146 participants.
LIMITATIONS:
The EPO RCT was not originally designed to investigate the research questions addressed in this study.
CONCLUSIONS:
Both for ethical and financial reasons it is of interest to minimize the number of participants in clinical trials. Therefore, we suggest employing the HAM-D6 as outcome measure in clinical trials of depression.

The effect of recombinant erythropoietin on plasma brain derived neurotrophic factor levels in patients with affective disorders: a randomised controlled study

Vinberg M, Miskowiak K, Hoejman P, Pedersen M, Kessing LV

PLoS One. 2015 May 26;10(5):e0127629

Abstract
The study aims to investigate the effect of repeated infusions of recombinant erythropoietin (EPO) on plasma brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in patients with affective disorders. In total, 83 patients were recruited: 40 currently depressed patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD) (Hamilton Depression Rating Scale-17 items (HDRS-17) score >17) (study 1) and 43 patients with bipolar disorder (BD) in partial remission (HDRS-17 and Young Mania Rating Scale (YMRS) ≤ 14) (study 2). In both studies, patients were randomised to receive eight weekly EPO (Eprex; 40,000 IU) or saline (0.9% NaCl) infusions in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel–group design. Plasma BDNF levels were measured at baseline and at weeks 5, 9 and at follow up, week 14. In contrast with our hypothesis, EPO down regulated plasma BDNF levels in patients with TRD (mean reduction at week 9 (95% CI): EPO 10.94 ng/l (4.51-21.41 ng/l); mean increase at week 9: Saline 0.52 ng/l, p=0.04 (-5.88-4.48 ng/l) p=0.04, partial ŋ2=0.12). No significant effects were found on BDNF levels in partially remitted patients with BD (p=0.35). The present effects of EPO on BDNF levels in patients with TRD point to a role of neurotrophic factors in the potential effects of EPO seen in TRD and BD. The neurobiological mechanisms underlying these effects and the interaction between EPO and peripheral levels on BDNF need to be further elucidated in human studies including a broad range of biomarkers.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT00916552.

Dr Miskowiak and colleagues reply

Miskowiak KW, Ehrenreich H, Kessing LV, Vinberg M.

J Clin Psychiatry. 2015 Jun;76(6):e835-6. doi: 10.4088/JCP.15lr09809a.

Abstract

To the Editor: We thank Dr Lozano and colleagues for their comments on our study “Recombinant Human Erythropoietin to Target Cognitive Dysfunction in Bipolar Disorder: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Phase 2 Trial,” which give us the opportunity to address some conceptually important points regarding the effects of erythropoietin (EPO) on cognition. Lozano et al note that it is a potential confound that patients remained on their mood-stabilizing treatment including lithium for the duration of the study for 2 reasons: first, lithium has dose-dependent procognitive effects in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment in doses from 150 mg to 600 mg but harmful effects on cognition at doses ≥ 1 g; second, lithium and EPO may activate similar signaling pathways and thus exert synergistic actions on neuroplasticity. Lozano et al point out that the EPO-associated improvement of cognition could have therefore been influenced by patients’ lithium treatment during or prior to the study and request (1) explicit data regarding lithium exposure for each study group and (2) analysis of whether EPO and lithium have independent cognitive effects, or whether the beneficial effects attributed to EPO could be partially due to lithium or an interaction between EPO and lithium … [see full reply in J Clin Psychiatry]

Effects of Erythropoietin on Hippocampal Volume and Memory in Mood Disorders.

Miskowiak KW, Vinberg M, Macoveanu J, Ehrenreich H, Køster N, Inkster B, Paulson OB, Kessing LV, Skimminge A, Siebner HR

Biol Psychiatry. 2015 Aug 15;78(4):270-7

 

BACKGROUND:

Persistent cognitive dysfunction in depression and bipolar disorder (BD) impedes patients’ functional recovery. Erythropoietin (EPO) increases neuroplasticity and reduces cognitive difficulties in treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and remitted BD. This magnetic resonance imaging study assessed the neuroanatomical basis for these effects.

METHODS:

Patients with TRD who were moderately depressed or BD in partial remission were randomized to 8 weekly EPO (40,000 IU) or saline infusions in a double-blind, parallel-group design. Patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging, memory assessment with the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test, and mood ratings with the Beck Depression Inventory, Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, and Young Mania Rating Scale at baseline and week 14. Hippocampus segmentation and analysis of hippocampal volume, shape, and gray matter density were conducted with FMRIB Software Library tools. Memory change was analyzed with repeated-measures analysis of covariance adjusted for depression symptoms, diagnosis, age, and gender.

RESULTS:

Eighty-four patients were randomized; 1 patient withdrew and data collection was incomplete for 14 patients; data were thus analyzed for 69 patients (EPO: n = 35, saline: n = 34). Compared with saline, EPO was associated with mood-independent memory improvement and reversal of brain matter loss in the left hippocampal cornu ammonis 1 to cornu ammonis 3 and subiculum. Using the entire sample, memory improvement was associated with subfield hippocampal volume increase independent of mood change.

CONCLUSIONS:

EPO-associated memory improvement in TRD and BD may be mediated by reversal of brain matter loss in a subfield of the left hippocampus. EPO may provide a therapeutic option for patients with mood disorders who have impaired neuroplasticity and cognition.

Erythropoietin modulates neural and cognitive processing of emotional information in biomarker models of antidepressant drug action in depressed patients.

Miskowiak KW, Favaron E, Hafizi S, Inkster B, Goodwin GM, Cowen PJ, Harmer CJ.

 

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010 Jun: vol. 210(3) pp. 419-28

 

OBJECTIVE: Erythropoietin (Epo) has neuroprotective and neurotrophic effects, and may be a novel therapeutic agent in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. We have demonstrated antidepressant-like effects of Epo on the neural and cognitive processing of facial expressions in healthy volunteers. The current study investigates the effects of Epo on the neural and cognitive response to emotional facial expressions in depressed patients. METHOD: Nineteen acutely depressed patients were randomized to receive Epo (40,000 IU) or saline intravenously in a double-blind, parallel-group design. On day 3, we assessed neuronal responses to fearful and happy faces using functional magnetic resonance imaging and measured facial expression recognition after the scan. RESULTS: Epo reduced neural response to fearful vs. happy faces in the amygdala and hippocampus, and to fearful faces vs. baseline in superior temporal and occipitoparietal regions 3 days after administration in acutely depressed patients. This was accompanied by a specific reduction in the recognition of fear in Epo-treated patients after the scan similar to the effects on face recognition seen with antidepressant drug treatment. CONCLUSIONS: The present findings are similar to the effects of conventional antidepressants in acutely depressed patients and opposite to hypervigilance to negative facial expressions in depression. This highlights a potential antidepressant mechanism and warrants further investigation of Epo as a new candidate compound for treatment of depression.

Erythropoietin improves mood and modulates the cognitive and neural processing of emotion 3 days post administration.

Erythropoietin improves mood and modulates the cognitive and neural processing of emotion 3 days post administration.


Miskowiak K, Inkster B, Selvaraj S, Wise R, Goodwin GM, Harmer CJ.

 

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008 Feb;33(3):611-8.

 

Erythropoietin (Epo) has neuroprotective and neurotrophic effects and is a promising candidate for treatment of neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorder. Recently, we demonstrated that Epo modulates memory-relevant hippocampal response and fear processing in human models of antidepressant drug action 1 week post-administration, and improves self-reported mood for 3 days immediately following administration. The present study explored the effects of Epo (40 000 IU) vs saline on self-reported mood and on neural and cognitive function in healthy volunteers 3 days post-administration to test the reliability of the rapid mood improvement and its neuropsychological basis. Neuronal responses during the processing of happy and fearful faces were investigated using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); facial expression recognition performance was assessed after the fMRI scan. Daily ratings of mood were obtained for 3 days after Epo/saline administration. During faces processing Epo enhanced activation in the left amygdala and right precuneus to happy and fearful expressions. This was paired with improved recognition of all facial expressions, in particular of low intensity happiness and fear. This is similar to behavioral effects observed with acute administration of serotonergic antidepressants. Consistent with our previous finding, Epo improved self-reported mood for all 3 days post-administration. Together, these results suggest that characterization of the effects of Epo in a clinically depressed group is warranted.

Erythropoietin reduces neural and cognitive processing of fear in human models of antidepressant drug action.

Miskowiak K, O’Sullivan U, Harmer CJ.

 

Biological Psychiatry. 2007 Dec 1;62(11):1244-50.

 

BACKGROUND: Erythropoietin (Epo) has neuroprotective and neurotrophic effects in animal models and affects cognitive and associated neural responses in humans. These effects have highlighted Epo as a candidate for treatment of psychiatric disease including schizophrenia and depression. The current study aimed to explore the effects of Epo on neural and behavioral measures of emotional processing relevant for depression and the effects of conventional antidepressant medication. METHODS: In the present study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to explore the effects of Epo (40,000 IU) versus saline on the neural processing of happy and fearful faces in 23 healthy volunteers. Facial expression recognition was assessed outside the scanner. RESULTS: One week after administration, Epo reduced neural response to fearful versus neutral faces in the occipito-parietal cortex consistent with reduced attention to fear. Erythropoietin additionally reduced recognition of fearful facial expressions without affecting recognition of other emotional expressions. These actions occurred in the absence of changes in hematological parameters. CONCLUSIONS: The present study demonstrates that Epo directly modulates brain responses to emotional information in humans in a manner consistent with the actions of conventional antidepressants. The characterization of the effects of Epo in a clinically depressed group is therefore warranted.