Treatment-resistant depression: definitions, review of the evidence, and algorithmic approach

J Affect Disord. 2014 Mar:156:1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2013.10.043. Epub 2013 Nov 15.


Background: Most adults with major depressive disorder (MDD) fail to achieve remission with index pharmacological treatment. Moreover, at least half will not achieve and sustain remission following multiple pharmacological approaches. Herein, we succinctly review treatment modalities proven effective in treatment-resistant depression (TRD).

Methods: We conducted a review of computerized databases (PubMed, Google Scholar) from 1980 to April 2013. Articles selected for review were based on author consensus, adequacy of sample size, the use of a standardized experimental procedure, validated assessment measures and overall manuscript quality.

Results: The evidence base supporting augmentation of conventional antidepressants with atypical antipsychotics (i.e., aripiprazole, quetiapine, and olanzapine) is the most extensive and rigorous of all pharmacological approaches in TRD. Emerging evidence supports the use of some psychostimulants (i.e., lisdexamfetamine) as well as aerobic exercise. In addition, treatments informed by pathogenetic disease models provide preliminary evidence for the efficacy of immune-inflammatory based therapies and metabolic interventions. Manual based psychotherapies remain a treatment option, with the most compelling evidence for cognitive behavioral therapy. Disparate neurostimulation strategies are also available for individuals insufficiently responsive to pharmacotherapy and/or psychosocial interventions.

Limitations: Compared to non-treatment-resistant depression, TRD has been less studied. Most clinical studies on TRD have focused on pharmacotherapy-resistant depression, with relatively fewer studies evaluating "next choice" treatments in individuals who do not initially respond to psychosocial and/or neurostimulatory treatments.

Conclusion: The pathoetiological heterogeneity of MDD/TRD invites the need for mechanistically dissimilar, and empirically validated, treatment approaches for TRD.

Keywords: Atypical antipsychotics; Augmentation; Combination; Lithium; Major depressive disorder; Treatment-resistant depression (TRD).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder, Treatment-Resistant / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Treatment-Resistant / therapy*
  • Humans