Duration of Adjunctive Antidepressant Maintenance in Bipolar I Depression

N Engl J Med. 2023 Aug 3;389(5):430-440. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2300184.


Background: Antidepressants are used to treat acute depression in patients with bipolar I disorder, but their effect as maintenance treatment after the remission of depression has not been well studied.

Methods: We conducted a multisite, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of maintenance of treatment with adjunctive escitalopram or bupropion XL as compared with discontinuation of antidepressant therapy in patients with bipolar I disorder who had recently had remission of a depressive episode. Patients were randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio to continue treatment with antidepressants for 52 weeks after remission or to switch to placebo at 8 weeks. The primary outcome, assessed in a time-to-event analysis, was any mood episode, as defined by scores on scales measuring symptoms of hypomania or mania, depression, suicidality, and mood-episode severity; additional treatment or hospitalization for mood symptoms; or attempted or completed suicide. Key secondary outcomes included the time to an episode of mania or hypomania or depression.

Results: Of 209 patients with bipolar I disorder who participated in an open-label treatment phase, 150 who had remission of depression were enrolled in the double-blind phase in addition to 27 patients who were enrolled directly. A total of 90 patients were assigned to continue treatment with the prescribed antidepressant for 52 weeks (52-week group) and 87 were assigned to switch to placebo at 8 weeks (8-week group). The trial was stopped before full recruitment was reached owing to slow recruitment and funding limitations. At 52 weeks, 28 of the patients in the 52-week group (31%) and 40 in the 8-week group (46%) had a primary-outcome event. The hazard ratio for time to any mood episode in the 52-week group relative to the 8-week group was 0.68 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.43 to 1.10; P = 0.12 by log-rank test). A total of 11 patients in the 52-week group (12%) as compared with 5 patients in the 8-week group (6%) had mania or hypomania (hazard ratio, 2.28; 95% CI, 0.86 to 6.08), and 15 patients (17%) as compared with 35 patients (40%) had recurrence of depression (hazard ratio, 0.43; 95% CI, 0.25 to 0.75). The incidence of adverse events was similar in the two groups.

Conclusions: In a trial involving patients with bipolar I disorder and a recently remitted depressive episode, adjunctive treatment with escitalopram or bupropion XL that continued for 52 weeks did not show a significant benefit as compared with treatment for 8 weeks in preventing relapse of any mood episode. The trial was stopped early owing to slow recruitment and funding limitations. (Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00958633.).

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Bipolar Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Bipolar Disorder* / drug therapy
  • Bupropion / adverse effects
  • Canada
  • Depression
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Escitalopram
  • Humans
  • Mania
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / drug therapy
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Bupropion
  • Escitalopram
  • Antidepressive Agents

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00958633