Studies on the neural effects of Erythropoietin (EPO) indicate that EPO may have antidepressant effects. Due to its hematopoietic effects, EPO may cause serious side-effects with repeated administration if patients are not monitored extensively. ARA290 is an EPO-analog peptide without such hematopoietic side-effects but may have neurotrophic and antidepressant effects. The aim of this study was to investigate the possible antidepressant effects of ARA290 in a neuropsychological model of drug action. Healthy participants (N=36) received ARA290 (2mg) or placebo in a double-blind, randomized, parallel-group design. Neural and cognitive effects were assessed one week after administration. Primary outcome measures were the neural processing of fearful vs happy faces and the behavioral recognition of emotional facial expressions. ARA290-treated individuals displayed lower neural responses to happy faces in the fusiform gyrus. ARA290 tended to lower the recognition of happy and disgust facial expressions. Although ARA290 was not associated with a better memory for positive words, it was associated with faster categorization of positive vs negative words. Finally, ARA290 increased attention towards positive emotional pictures. No effects were observed on mood and affective symptoms. ARA290 may modulate some aspects of emotional processing, however, the direction and the strength of its effects do not unequivocally support an antidepressant-like profile for ARA290. Future studies may investigate the effects of different timing and dose.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02070783.
Keywords: ARA290; Antidepressants; Erythropoietin; Neuropsychological model of drug action.
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