A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial of Tocilizumab, An Interleukin-6 Receptor Antibody, For Residual Symptoms in Schizophrenia

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 May;43(6):1317-1323. doi: 10.1038/npp.2017.258. Epub 2017 Nov 1.


Evidence from preclinical, epidemiological, and human studies indicates that inflammation, and in particular elevated interleukin-6 (IL-6) activity, may be related to clinical manifestations and pathophysiology of schizophrenia. Furthermore, studies in preclinical models suggest that decreasing IL-6 activity may mitigate or reverse some of these deficits. The purpose of this trial was to test whether an IL-6 receptor antibody, tocilizumab, would improve residual positive and negative symptoms and cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. We randomized 36 clinically stable, moderately symptomatic (i.e., Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) >60) individuals with schizophrenia to 3 monthly infusions of 8 mg/kg tocilizumab or placebo (normal saline). The primary outcome was effect at week 12 on the PANSS Total Score. Effects on the MATRICS, other PANSS subscales, Clinical Global Impression, and Global Assessment of Functioning were secondary outcomes. There were no observed treatment effects on any behavioral outcome measure. Baseline C-reactive protein (CRP) or cytokine levels did not predict treatment outcome, nor were there correlations between changes in these inflammatory markers and the measured outcomes. As expected, IL-6 and IL-8 increased, while CRP decreased, in the tocilizumab group compared with the placebo group. This study did not reveal any evidence that an IL-6 receptor antibody affects behavioral outcomes in schizophrenia. One potential explanation is the lack of capacity of this agent to penetrate the central nervous system. Additional trials of medications aimed at targeting cytokine overactivity that act directly on brain function and/or treatment in early-stage psychosis populations are needed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy*
  • Schizophrenia / immunology
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines
  • IL6R protein, human
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6
  • tocilizumab