Effect of Esketamine Nasal Spray on Olfactory Function and Nasal Tolerability in Patients with Treatment-Resistant Depression: Results from Four Multicenter, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Phase III Studies

CNS Drugs. 2021 Jul;35(7):781-794. doi: 10.1007/s40263-021-00826-9. Epub 2021 Jul 7.


Background: Intranasal drug delivery offers a non-invasive and convenient dosing option for patients and physicians, especially for conditions requiring chronic/repeated-treatment administration. However, in some cases such delivery may be harmful to nasal and olfactory epithelia.

Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the potential impact of long-term intermittent treatment with esketamine nasal spray, taken in conjunction with an oral antidepressant (AD), on olfactory function and nasal tolerability in patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD).

Methods: A total of 1142 patients with TRD participated from four multicenter, randomized, double-blind, phase III studies: three short-term studies (two in patients aged 18-64 years, one in patients ≥65 years), and one long-term maintenance study of esketamine nasal spray + AD versus placebo nasal spray + AD. Across the four studies, assessments were performed at 208 sites in 21 countries. Olfactory function was measured using the 40-item University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT®) and the single-staircase Snap & Sniff® Odor Detection Threshold Test (S&S-T). Nasal tolerability, including nasal examinations and a quantitative, self-administered nasal symptom questionnaire (NSQ), was also assessed. Data were analyzed using analyses of covariance.

Results: Of 1142 participants, 734 were women (64.3%). The mean age of all participants ranged from 45.7 to 70.0 years across the studies. Overall, 855 patients received esketamine nasal spray + AD and 432 received placebo nasal spray + AD. Objective evaluation of nasal function showed no evidence of an adverse impact following esketamine administration. Based on the UPSIT® and S&S-T results, intranasal administration of esketamine had no effect on the odor identification or threshold test scores compared with placebo nasal spray + oral AD. Similarly, repeated administration with esketamine nasal spray had no meaningful impact on assessments of nasal function. No dose-response relationship was observed between esketamine doses and the olfactory test scores. Esketamine nasal spray was well tolerated, as indicated by responses on the NSQ and negative nasal examination findings.

Conclusion: Findings from this analysis indicate that there was no evidence of adverse effect on either olfactory or nasal health measures with repeated intermittent administration of esketamine nasal spray at any dose over the course of short-term (4 weeks) or long-term (16-100 weeks) studies.

Clinical trial registration: TRANSFORM-1: NCT02417064, date of registration: 15/04/2015; TRANSFORM-2: NCT02418585, date of registration: 16/04/2015; TRANSFORM-3: NCT02422186, date of registration: 21/04/2015; SUSTAIN-1: NCT02493868, date of registration: 10/07/2015.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal* / instrumentation
  • Administration, Intranasal* / methods
  • Antidepressive Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antidepressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Antidepressive Agents / classification
  • Depressive Disorder, Treatment-Resistant / drug therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Therapy, Combination / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ketamine* / administration & dosage
  • Ketamine* / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nasal Sprays*
  • Nose Diseases / chemically induced
  • Nose Diseases / diagnosis
  • Olfaction Disorders / chemically induced
  • Olfaction Disorders / diagnosis
  • Olfactometry / methods
  • Time
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Nasal Sprays
  • Esketamine
  • Ketamine

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02418585
  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02417064
  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02422186
  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02493868