Personalized prediction of antidepressant v. placebo response: Evidence from the EMBARC study

Christian A. Webb, Madhukar H. Trivedi, Zachary D. Cohen, Daniel G. Dillon, Jay C. Fournier, Franziska Goer, Maurizio Fava, Patrick J. McGrath, Myrna Weissman, Ramin Parsey, Phil Adams, Joseph M. Trombello, Crystal Cooper, Patricia Deldin, Maria A. Oquendo, Melvin G. McInnis, Quentin Huys, Gerard Bruder, Benji T. Kurian, Manish JhaRobert J. DeRubeis, Diego A. Pizzagalli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Background Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a highly heterogeneous condition in terms of symptom presentation and, likely, underlying pathophysiology. Accordingly, it is possible that only certain individuals with MDD are well-suited to antidepressants. A potentially fruitful approach to parsing this heterogeneity is to focus on promising endophenotypes of depression, such as neuroticism, anhedonia, and cognitive control deficits.Methods Within an 8-week multisite trial of sertraline v. placebo for depressed adults (n = 216), we examined whether the combination of machine learning with a Personalized Advantage Index (PAI) can generate individualized treatment recommendations on the basis of endophenotype profiles coupled with clinical and demographic characteristics.Results Five pre-treatment variables moderated treatment response. Higher depression severity and neuroticism, older age, less impairment in cognitive control, and being employed were each associated with better outcomes to sertraline than placebo. Across 1000 iterations of a 10-fold cross-validation, the PAI model predicted that 31% of the sample would exhibit a clinically meaningful advantage [post-treatment Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD) difference 3] with sertraline relative to placebo. Although there were no overall outcome differences between treatment groups (d = 0.15), those identified as optimally suited to sertraline at pre-treatment had better week 8 HRSD scores if randomized to sertraline (10.7) than placebo (14.7) (d = 0.58).Conclusions A subset of MDD patients optimally suited to sertraline can be identified on the basis of pre-treatment characteristics. This model must be tested prospectively before it can be used to inform treatment selection. However, findings demonstrate the potential to improve individual outcomes through algorithm-guided treatment recommendations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1118-1127
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - May 1 2019


  • Antidepressant
  • depression
  • endophenotype
  • machine learning
  • placebo
  • precision medicine
  • prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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