N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in schizophrenia resistant to clozapine: a double blind randomised placebo controlled trial targeting negative symptoms

BMC Psychiatry. 2016 Sep 15;16(1):320. doi: 10.1186/s12888-016-1030-3.


Background: Clozapine is an effective treatment for a proportion of people with schizophrenia (SZ) who are resistant to the beneficial effects of other antipsychotic drugs. However, anything from 40-60 % of people on clozapine experience residual symptoms even on adequate doses of the medication, and thus could be considered 'clozapine resistant'. Agents that could work alongside clozapine to improve efficacy whilst not increasing the adverse effect burden are both desired and necessary to improve the lives of individuals with clozapine-resistant SZ. N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) is one such possible agent. Previous research from our research group provided promising pilot data suggesting the efficacy of NAC in this patient population. The aim of the study reported here is to expand this work by conducting a large scale clinical trial of NAC in the treatment of clozapine-resistant SZ.

Methods: This study is an investigator initiated, multi-site, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. It aims to include 168 patients with clozapine-resistant SZ, divided into an intervention group (NAC) and a control group (placebo). Participants in the intervention group will receive 2 g daily of NAC. The primary outcome measures will be the negative symptom scores of the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS). Secondary outcome measures will include: changes in quality of life (QoL) as measured by the Lancashire Quality of Life Profile (LQoLP) and cognitive functioning as measured by the total score on the MATRICS. Additionally we will examine peripheral and cortical glutathione (GSH) concentrations as process outcomes.

Discussion: This large scale clinical trial will investigate the efficacy of NAC as an adjunctive medication to clozapine. This trial, if successful, will establish a cheap, safe and easy-to-use agent (NAC) as a 'go to' adjunct in patients that are only partly responsive to clozapine.

Trial registration: Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registration Number: Current Randomised Controlled Trial ACTRN12615001273572 . The date of registration 23 November 2015.

Keywords: Biomarkers; Clozapine; Cognition; N-Acetylcysteine; Negative Symptoms; Schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase IV
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / therapeutic use*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Australia
  • Clozapine*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Resistance
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Free Radical Scavengers / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New Zealand
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Clozapine
  • Acetylcysteine

Associated data

  • ANZCTR/ACTRN12615001273572