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.


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: identifier: NCT00916552.

Optimising screening for cognitive dysfunction in bipolar disorder: validation and evaluation of objective and subjective tools

Jensen JH, Støttrup MM, Nayberg E, Knorr U, Ullum U, Purdon SE, Kessing LV, Miskowiak LV    

Journal of Affective Disorders (in press)


Introduction: Cognitive impairment is common in bipolar disorder and contributes to socio-occupational difficulties. The objective was to validate and evaluate instruments to screen for and monitor cognitive impairments, and improve the understanding of the association between cognitive measures and socio-occupational capacity.

Methods: Patients with bipolar disorder in partial or full remission (n=84) and healthy controls (n=68) were assessed with the Screen for Cognitive Impairment in Psychiatry (SCIP), Cognitive Complaints in Bipolar Disorder Rating Scale (COBRA), and established neuropsychological tests and subjective rating scales. Socio-occupational function and affective symptoms were evaluated with the Functional Assessment Short Test, and the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale 17-items and Young Mania Rating Scale, respectively. Concurrent validity of the SCIP and COBRA were assessed by correlation with established objective and subjective cognitive measures, and decision validity was determined with Receiver-Operating-Characteristic analyses. Correlations and linear regression analyses were conducted to determine the associations between objective and subjective cognitive impairment, and socio-occupational difficulties.

Results: The SCIP and COBRA correlated strongly with established objective and subjective cognitive measures, respectively. The SCIP yielded higher sensitivity and specificity for detection of cognitive dysfunction than the COBRA or a combined SCIP-COBRA measure. Correlations between objective and subjective cognitive impairment were weak but both were associated with socio-occupational difficulties.

Limitations: Influence of ageing was not investigated.

Conclusions: The SCIP and COBRA are valid for detection of objective and subjective cognitive impairment in bipolar disorder. Screening for cognitive dysfunction should be conducted with an objective measure like the SCIP.

Assessment of subjective and objective cognitive function in bipolar disorder: Correlations, predictors and the relation to psychosocial function

Demant KM, Vinberg M, Kessing LV, Miskowiak KW

Psychiatry Res. 2015 Jun 3. pii: S0165-1781(15)00291-7.


Cognitive dysfunction is prevalent in bipolar disorder (BD). However, the evidence regarding the association between subjective cognitive complaints, objective cognitive performance and psychosocial function is sparse and inconsistent. Seventy seven patients with bipolar disorder who presented cognitive complaints underwent assessment of objective and subjective cognitive function and psychosocial functioning as part of their participation in two clinical trials. We investigated the association between global and domain-specific objective and subjective cognitive function and between global cognitive function and psychosocial function. We also identified clinical variables that predicted objective and subjective cognitive function and psychosocial functioning. There was a correlation between global subjective and objective measures of cognitive dysfunction but not within the individual cognitive domains. However, the correlation was weak, suggesting that cognitive complaints are not an assay of cognition per se. Self-rated psychosocial difficulties were associated with subjective (but not objective) cognitive impairment and both subjective cognitive and psychosocial difficulties were predicted by depressive symptoms. Our findings indicate that adequate assessment of cognition in the clinical treatment of BD and in drug trials targeting cognition requires implementation of not only subjective measures but also of objective neuropsychological tests.

Effects of Short-Term Cognitive Remediation on Cognitive Dysfunction in Partially or Fully Remitted Individuals with Bipolar Disorder: Results of a Randomised Controlled Trial

Demant KM, Vinberg M, Kessing LV, Miskowiak KW

PLoS One. 2015 Jun 12;10(6):e0127955.


INTRODUCTION: Cognitive dysfunction is common in bipolar disorder (BD) but is not sufficiently addressed by current treatments. Cognitive remediation (CR) may improve cognitive function in schizophrenia but no randomised controlled trial has investigated this intervention in BD. The present study aimed to investigate the effects of CR on persistent cognitive dysfunction in BD.

METHOD: Patients with BD in partial remission with cognitive complaints were randomised to 12 weeks group-based CR (n=23) or standard treatment (ST) (n=23). Outcomes were improved verbal memory (primary), sustained attention, executive and psychosocial function (secondary) and additional measures of cognitive and psychosocial function (tertiary). Participants were assessed at baseline and weeks 12 and 26.

RESULTS: Of the 46 randomised participants five dropped out and one was excluded after baseline. CR (n=18) had no effect on primary or secondary measures of cognitive or psychosocial function compared with ST (n=22). However, CR improved subjective sharpness at week 12, and quality of life and verbal fluency at week 26 follow-up (tertiary outcomes). Although the trial turned out to have suboptimal statistical power for the primary outcome analysis, calculation of the 95% confidence interval showed that it was highly unlikely that an increase in sample size would have rendered any beneficial effects of CR vs. ST on the verbal memory.

CONCLUSIONS: Short-term group-based CR did not seem to improve overall cognitive or psychosocial function in individuals with BD in full or partial remission. The present findings suggest that that longer-term, more intensive and individualised CR may be necessary to improve cognition in BD.


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.


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]