Effect of mirtazapine versus selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors on benzodiazepine use in patients with major depressive disorder: a pragmatic, multicenter, open-label, randomized, active-controlled, 24-week trial

Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2016 Oct 19:15:27. doi: 10.1186/s12991-016-0115-1. eCollection 2016.


Background: This study aimed to evaluate whether selecting mirtazapine as the first choice for current depressive episode instead of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) reduces benzodiazepine use in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). We concurrently examined the relationship between clinical responses and serum mature brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its precursor, proBDNF.

Methods: We conducted an open-label randomized trial in routine psychiatric practice settings. Seventy-seven MDD outpatients were randomly assigned to the mirtazapine or predetermined SSRIs groups, and investigators arbitrarily selected sertraline or paroxetine. The primary outcome was the proportion of benzodiazepine users at weeks 6, 12, and 24 between the groups. We defined patients showing a ≥50 % reduction in Hamilton depression rating scale (HDRS) scores from baseline as responders. Blood samples were collected at baseline, weeks 6, 12, and 24.

Results: Sixty-five patients prescribed benzodiazepines from prescription day 1 were analyzed for the primary outcome. The percentage of benzodiazepine users was significantly lower in the mirtazapine than in the SSRIs group at weeks 6, 12, and 24 (21.4 vs. 81.8 %; 11.1 vs. 85.7 %, both P < 0.001; and 12.5 vs. 81.8 %, P = 0.0011, respectively). No between-group difference was observed in HDRS score changes. Serum proBDNF levels were significantly decreased (χ2 = 8.5, df = 3, P = 0.036) and serum mature BDNF levels were temporarily significantly decreased (F = 3.5, df = 2.4, P = 0.027) in the responders of both groups at week 24.

Conclusion: This study demonstrated mirtazapine as the first-choice antidepressant for current depressive episodes may reduce benzodiazepine use in patients with MDD. Trial registration UMIN000004144. Registered 2nd September 2010. The date of enrolment of the first participant to the trial was 24th August 2010. This study was retrospectively registered 9 days after the first participant was enrolled.

Keywords: Benzodiazepines; Brain-derived neurotrophic factor; Depression; Mirtazapine; Serum.