Platelet serotonin (5-HT) levels in interferon-treated patients with hepatitis C and its possible association with interferon-induced depression.
BACKGROUND Interferon-induced depression represents a major complication in antiviral treatment of chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. AIM To evaluate in a placebo-controlled study the efficacy of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) in HCV patients on antiviral therapy with interferon-associated depression. METHODS 100 HCV outpatients were included in a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. During interferon therapy (peginterferon alpha-2b plus ribavirin), depression was monitored using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). Patients with clinically relevant interferon-induced depression (HADS >or=9) were randomly assigned to placebo or citalopram (SSRI, 20 mg/day). RESULTS In 28 patients (28%), HADS scores increased to >8 during interferon therapy. They were treated with placebo (n = 14) or SSRI (n = 14). HADS scores declined significantly in SSRI patients within four weeks of therapy (p<0.001) but not in placebo patients. This difference between subgroups was statistically significant (p = 0.032). Unblinding became necessary in five placebo patients as a result of intolerable depression. Rescue medication (20 mg citalopram) led to a significant decrease in HADS scores (p = 0.008). All citalopram patients were able to complete interferon therapy as planned. As an interim analysis showed a significant superiority of SSRI over placebo, the study was terminated prematurely. Three patients, who became depressed afterwards, were treated in an unblinded fashion with citalopram. CONCLUSIONS The findings demonstrate clearly that citalopram treatment is highly effective in HCV patients on interferon therapy, when initiated after the onset of clinically relevant depressive symptoms. This suggests that a general SSRI prophylaxis is not necessary in these patients.