Background: Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) had antidepressant effects in an initial open, acute phase pilot study of 59 participants in a treatment-resistant major depressive episode (MDE). We examined the effects of adjunctive VNS over 24 months in this cohort.
Method: Adult outpatients (N = 59) with chronic or recurrent major depressive disorder or bipolar (I or II) disorder and experiencing a treatment-resistant, nonpsychotic MDE (DSM-IV criteria) received 2 years of VNS. Changes in psychotropic medications and VNS stimulus parameters were allowed only after the first 3 months. Response was defined as > or = 50% reduction from the baseline 28-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D-28) total score, and remission was defined as a HAM-D-28 score < or = 10.
Results: Based on last observation carried forward analyses, HAM-D-28 response rates were 31% (18/59) after 3 months, 44% (26/59) after 1 year, and 42% (25/59) after 2 years of adjunctive VNS. Remission rates were 15% (9/59) at 3 months, 27% (16/59) at 1 year, and 22% (13/59) at 2 years. By 2 years, 2 deaths (unrelated to VNS) had occurred, 4 participants had withdrawn from the study, and 81% (48/59) were still receiving VNS. Longer-term VNS was generally well tolerated.
Conclusion: These results suggest that patients with chronic or recurrent, treatment-resistant depression may show long-term benefit when treated with VNS.