Importance: Atypical antipsychotic medications are indicated for the treatment of irritability and agitation symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Unfortunately, these medications are associated with weight gain and metabolic complications that are especially troubling in children and with long-term use.
Objective: To evaluate the efficacy of metformin for weight gain associated with atypical antipsychotic medications in children and adolescents with ASD (defined in the protocol as DSM-IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified), aged 6 to 17 years.
Design, setting, and participants: A 16-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial was conducted at 4 centers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Columbus, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Nashville, Tennessee. In all, 209 potential participants were screened by telephone, 69 individuals provided consent, and 61 participants were randomized to receive metformin or placebo between April 26, 2013, and June 24, 2015.
Interventions: Metformin or matching placebo titrated up to 500 mg twice daily for children aged 6 to 9 years and 850 mg twice daily for those 10 to 17 years.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome measure was change in body mass index (BMI) z score during 16 weeks of treatment. Secondary outcomes included changes in additional body composition and metabolic variables. Safety, tolerability, and efficacy analyses all used a modified intent-to-treat sample comprising all participants who received at least 1 dose of medication.
Results: Of the 61 randomized participants, 60 participants initiated treatment (45 [75%] male; mean [SD] age, 12.8 [2.7] years). Metformin reduced BMI z scores from baseline to week 16 significantly more than placebo (difference in 16-week change scores vs placebo, -0.10 [95% CI, -0.16 to -0.04]; P = .003). Statistically significant improvements were also noted in secondary body composition measures (raw BMI, -0.95 [95% CI, -1.46 to -0.45] and raw weight, -2.73 [95% CI, -4.04 to -1.43]) but not in metabolic variables. Overall, metformin was well tolerated. Five participants in the metformin group discontinued treatment owing to adverse events (agitation, 4; sedation, 1). Participants receiving metformin vs placebo experienced gastrointestinal adverse events during a significantly higher percentage of treatment days (25.1% vs 6.8%; P = .005).
Conclusions and relevance: Metformin may be effective in decreasing weight gain associated with atypical antipsychotic use and is well tolerated by children and adolescents with ASD.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT01825798.