A Randomized Controlled Trial of Intravenous Scopolamine Versus Active-Placebo Glycopyrrolate in Patients With Major Depressive Disorder

Joseph C. C. Chen, MSca,*; Rachael L. Sumner, PhDa; Venkat Krishnamurthy Naga, MBBSb; Nicholas Hoeh, MDc; Hafis Adetokunbo Ayeni, MBBSd; Vikrant Singh, MBChBd; Andrew Wilson, MBChBd; Douglas Campbell, BMd; Frederick Sundram, PhDc; and Suresh D. Muthukumaraswamy, PhDa

Published: August 15, 2022

ABSTRACT

Objective: To investigate scopolamine’s rapid-acting antidepressant effects using an active placebo comparator. Most prior intravenous scopolamine studies reduced depressive symptomatologies compared to saline placebo infusions within 3 days. However, the confounding effect of placebo is unknown given that only saline placebo has been used in prior studies.

Methods: In this trial, 40 patients with major depressive disorder were randomized to receive single intravenous doses of either scopolamine hydrobromide (4–6 µg/kg) or glycopyrronium bromide (4 µg/kg) between August 2019 and April 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand. Glycopyrronium was chosen as the active placebo due to its similar antimuscarinic properties to scopolamine but inability to cross the blood-brain barrier. The primary mood outcome measure was the Montgomery-Šsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) administered pre-infusion and 1, 3, 7, 14, 28, and 42 days post-infusion.

Results: Per protocol, this trial was abandoned for futility at n = 40. While scopolamine reduced MADRS scores by 12.6 (± 8.7 SD) points at day 3, glycopyrronium showed similar reductions (11.2 ± 9.6 SD). Frequentist linear mixed models showed no antidepressant effects of scopolamine versus placebo (d = 0.17), and Bayesian mixed effect models showed moderate evidence in favor of the null hypothesis at day 3 (Bayes factor = 0.32). Participants remained well-blinded to drug allocation, with 50% of participants correctly guessing their allocation.

Conclusions: The observed MADRS improvement was larger than in prior studies, but no antidepressant effects were observed. This study using an active placebo confirms recent studies demonstrating the lack of antidepressant efficacy of scopolamine.

Trial Registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry identifier: ACTRN12619000569101

Volume: 83

Quick Links: Depression (MDD)

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