Optimal dose of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, venlafaxine, and mirtazapine in major depression: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis

Toshi A. Furukawa, Andrea Cipriani, Philip J. Cowen, Stefan Leucht, Matthias Egger, Georgia Salanti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

178 Scopus citations


Background: Depression is the single largest contributor to non-fatal health loss worldwide. Second-generation antidepressants are the first-line option for pharmacological management of depression. Optimising their use is crucial in reducing the burden of depression; however, debate about their dose dependency and their optimal target dose is ongoing. We have aimed to summarise the currently available best evidence to inform this clinical question. Methods: We did a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of double-blind, randomised controlled trials that examined fixed doses of five selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs; citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, and sertraline), venlafaxine, or mirtazapine in the acute treatment of adults (aged 18 years or older) with major depression, identified from the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, CINAHL, Embase, LILACS, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, AMED, PSYNDEX, websites of drug licensing agencies and pharmaceutical companies, and trial registries. We imposed no language restrictions, and the search was updated until Jan 8, 2016. Doses of SSRIs were converted to fluoxetine equivalents. Trials of antidepressants for patients with depression and a serious concomitant physical illness were excluded. The main outcomes were efficacy (treatment response defined as 50% or greater reduction in depression severity), tolerability (dropouts due to adverse effects), and acceptability (dropouts for any reasons), all after a median of 8 weeks of treatment (range 4–12 weeks). We used a random-effects, dose-response meta-analysis model with flexible splines for SSRIs, venlafaxine, and mirtazapine. Findings: 28 554 records were identified through our search (24 524 published and 4030 unpublished records). 561 published and 121 unpublished full-text records were assessed for eligibility, and 77 studies were included (19 364 participants; mean age 42·5 years, SD 11·0; 7156 [60·9%] of 11 749 reported were women). For SSRIs (99 treatment groups), the dose-efficacy curve showed a gradual increase up to doses between 20 mg and 40 mg fluoxetine equivalents, and a flat to decreasing trend through the higher licensed doses up to 80 mg fluoxetine equivalents. Dropouts due to adverse effects increased steeply through the examined range. The relationship between the dose and dropouts for any reason indicated optimal acceptability for the SSRIs in the lower licensed range between 20 mg and 40 mg fluoxetine equivalents. Venlafaxine (16 treatment groups) had an initially increasing dose-efficacy relationship up to around 75–150 mg, followed by a more modest increase, whereas for mirtazapine (11 treatment groups) efficacy increased up to a dose of about 30 mg and then decreased. Both venlafaxine and mirtazapine showed optimal acceptability in the lower range of their licensed dose. These results were robust to several sensitivity analyses. Interpretation: For the most commonly used second-generation antidepressants, the lower range of the licensed dose achieves the optimal balance between efficacy, tolerability, and acceptability in the acute treatment of major depression. Funding: Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Swiss National Science Foundation, and National Institute for Health Research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)601-609
Number of pages9
JournalThe Lancet Psychiatry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Optimal dose of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, venlafaxine, and mirtazapine in major depression: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this