Superolateral medial forebrain bundle deep brain stimulation in major depression: a gateway trial

Volker A. Coenen, Bettina H. Bewernick, Sarah Kayser, Hannah Kilian, Jan Boström, Susanne Greschus, René Hurlemann, Margaretha Eva Klein, Susanne Spanier, Bastian Sajonz, Horst Urbach, Thomas E. Schlaepfer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Short- and long-term antidepressant effects of deep brain stimulation (DBS) in treatment-resistant depression (TRD) have been demonstrated for several brain targets in open-label studies. For two stimulation targets, pivotal randomized trials have been conducted; both failed a futility analysis. We assessed efficacy and safety of DBS of the supero-lateral branch of the medial forebrain bundle (slMFB) in a small Phase I clinical study with a randomized-controlled onset of stimulation in order to obtain data for the planning of a large RCT. Sixteen patients suffering from TRD received DBS of the slMFB and were randomized to sham or real stimulation for the duration of 2 months after implantation. Primary outcome measure was mean reduction in Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) during 12 months of DBS (timeline analysis). Secondary outcomes were the difference in several clinical measures between sham and real stimulation at 8 weeks and during stimulation phases. MADRS ratings decreased significantly from 29.6 (SD +/− 4) at baseline to 12.9 (SD +/− 9) during 12 months of DBS (mean MADRS, n = 16). All patients reached the response criterion, most patients (n = 10) responded within a week; 50% of patients were classified as remitters after 1 year of stimulation. The most frequent side effect was transient strabismus. Both groups (active/sham) demonstrated an antidepressant micro-lesioning effect but patients had an additional antidepressant effect after initiation of stimulation. Both rapid onset and stability of the antidepressant effects of slMFB-DBS were demonstrated as in our previous pilot study. Given recent experiences from pivotal trials in DBS for MDD, we believe that slow, careful, and adaptive study development is germane. After our exploratory study and a large-scale study, we conducted this gateway trial in order to better inform planning of the latter. Important aspects for the planning of RCTs in the field of DBS for severe and chronic diseases are discussed including meaningful phases of intra-individual and between-group comparisons and timeline instead of single endpoint analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1224-1232
Number of pages9
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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