Pharmacological treatments for psychotic depression: a systematic review and network meta-analysis

Lancet Psychiatry. 2024 Mar;11(3):210-220. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(24)00006-3.


Background: There are no recommendations based on the efficacy of specific drugs for the treatment of psychotic depression. To address this evidence gap, we did a network meta-analysis to assess and compare the efficacy and safety of pharmacological treatments for psychotic depression.

Methods: In this systematic review and network meta-analysis, we searched, CENTRAL, Embase, PsycINFO, PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science from inception to Nov 23, 2023 for randomised controlled trials published in any language that assessed pharmacological treatments for individuals of any age with a diagnosis of a major depressive episode with psychotic features, in the context of major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder in any setting. We excluded continuation or maintenance trials. We screened the study titles and abstracts identified, and we extracted data from relevant studies after full-text review. If full data were not available, we requested data from study authors twice. We analysed treatments for individual drugs (or drug combinations) and by grouping them on the basis of mechanisms of action. The primary outcomes were response rate (ie, the proportion of participants who responded to treatment) and acceptability (ie, the proportion who discontinued treatment for any reason). We calculated risk ratios and did separate frequentist network meta-analyses by using random-effects models. The risk of bias of individual studies was assessed with the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool and the confidence in the evidence with the Confidence-In-Network-Meta-Analysis (CINeMA). This study was registered with PROSPERO, CRD42023392926.

Findings: Of 6313 reports identified, 16 randomised controlled trials were included in the systematic review, and 14 were included in the network meta-analyses. The 16 trials included 1161 people with psychotic depression (mean age 50·5 years [SD 11·4]). 516 (44·4%) participants were female and 422 (36·3%) were male; sex data were not available for the other 223 (19·2%). 489 (42·1%) participants were White, 47 (4·0%) were African American, and 12 (1·0%) were Asian; race or ethnicity data were not available for the other 613 (52·8%). Only the combination of fluoxetine plus olanzapine was associated with a higher proportion of participants with a treatment response compared with placebo (risk ratio 1·91 [95% CI 1·27-2·85]), with no differences in terms of safety outcomes compared with placebo. When treatments were grouped by mechanism of action, the combination of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor with a second-generation antipsychotic was associated with a higher proportion of treatment responses than was placebo (1·89 [1·17-3·04]), with no differences in terms of safety outcomes. In head-to-head comparisons of active treatments, a significantly higher proportion of participants had a response to amitriptyline plus perphenazine (3·61 [1·23-10·56]) and amoxapine (3·14 [1·01-9·80]) than to perphenazine, and to fluoxetine plus olanzapine compared with olanzapine alone (1·60 [1·09-2·34]). Venlafaxine, venlafaxine plus quetiapine (2·25 [1·09-4·63]), and imipramine (1·95 [1·01-3·79]) were also associated with a higher proportion of treatment responses overall. In head-to-head comparisons grouped by mechanism of action, antipsychotic plus antidepressant combinations consistently outperformed monotherapies from either drug class in terms of the proportion of participants with treatment responses. Heterogeneity was low. No high-risk instances were identified in the bias assessment for our primary outcomes.

Interpretation: According to the available evidence, the combination of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor and a second-generation antipsychotic-and particularly of fluoxetine and olanzapine-could be the optimal treatment choice for psychotic depression. These findings should be taken into account in the development of clinical practice guidelines. However, these conclusions should be interpreted cautiously in view of the low number of included studies and the limitations of these studies.

Funding: None.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antipsychotic Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Bipolar Disorder* / drug therapy
  • Depression
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Fluoxetine / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Network Meta-Analysis
  • Olanzapine / therapeutic use
  • Perphenazine / therapeutic use
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
  • Venlafaxine Hydrochloride / therapeutic use


  • Fluoxetine
  • Perphenazine
  • Venlafaxine Hydrochloride
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Olanzapine