Probing the Effective Treatment Thresholds for Alteplase in Acute Ischemic Stroke With Regression Discontinuity Designs

Andrew M. Naidech, Patrick N. Lawlor, Haolin Xu, Gregg C. Fonarow, Ying Xian, Eric E. Smith, Lee Schwamm, Roland Matsouaka, Shyam Prabhakaran, Ioana Marinescu, Konrad P. Kording

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard for measuring the efficacy of medical interventions. However, RCTs are expensive, and use a limited population. Techniques to estimate the effects of stroke interventions from observational data that minimize confounding would be useful. We used regression discontinuity design (RDD), a technique well-established in economics, on the Get With The Guidelines-Stroke (GWTG-Stroke) data set. RDD, based on regression, measures the occurrence of a discontinuity in an outcome (e.g., odds of home discharge) as a function of an intervention (e.g., alteplase) that becomes significantly more likely when crossing the threshold of a continuous variable that determines that intervention (e.g., time from symptom onset, since alteplase is only given if symptom onset is less than e.g., 3 h). The technique assumes that patients near either side of a threshold (e.g., 2.99 and 3.01 h from symptom onset) are indistinguishable other than the use of the treatment. We compared outcomes of patients whose estimated onset to treatment time fell on either side of the treatment threshold for three cohorts of patients in the GWTG-Stroke data set. This data set spanned three different treatment thresholds for alteplase (3 h, 2003–2007, N = 1,869; 3 h, 2009–2016, N = 13,086, and 4.5 h, 2009–2016, N = 6,550). Patient demographic characteristics were overall similar across the treatment thresholds. We did not find evidence of a discontinuity in clinical outcome at any treatment threshold attributable to alteplase. Potential reasons for failing to find an effect include violation of some RDD assumptions in clinical care, large sample sizes required, or already-well-chosen treatment threshold.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number961
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
StatePublished - Sep 2 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • alteplase
  • causal inference
  • ischemic stroke
  • quasi-experiments
  • regression discontinuity design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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