Suicidal ideation during treatment of depression with escitalopram and nortriptyline in genome-based therapeutic drugs for depression (GENDEP): a clinical trial

Nader Perroud, Rudolf Uher, Andrej Marusic, Marcella Rietschel, Ole Mors, Neven Henigsberg, Joanna Hauser, Wolfgang Maier, Daniel Souery, Anna Placentino, Aleksandra Szczepankiewicz, Lisbeth Jorgensen, Jana Strohmaier, Astrid Zobel, Caterina Giovannini, Amanda Elkin, Cerisse Gunasinghe, Joanna Gray, Desmond Campbell, Bhanu GuptaAnne E Farmer, Peter McGuffin, Katherine J Aitchison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Suicidal thoughts and behaviours during antidepressant treatment, especially during the first weeks of treatment, have prompted warnings by regulatory bodies. The aim of the present study is to investigate the course and predictors of emergence and worsening of suicidal ideation during tricyclic antidepressant and serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment.

METHODS: In a multicentre part-randomised open-label study, 811 adult patients with moderate to severe unipolar depression were allocated to flexible dosage of escitalopram or nortriptyline for 12 weeks. The suicidality items of three standard measures were integrated in a suicidal ideation score. Increases in this score were classified as treatment emergent suicidal ideation (TESI) or treatment worsening suicidal ideation (TWOSI) according to the absence or presence of suicidal ideation at baseline.

RESULTS: Suicidal ideation decreased during antidepressant treatment. Rates of TESI and TWOSI peaked in the fifth week. Severity of depression predicted TESI and TWOSI. In men, nortriptyline was associated with a 9.8-fold and 2.4-fold increase in TESI and TWOSI compared to escitalopram, respectively. Retirement and history of suicide attempts predicted TWOSI.

CONCLUSION: Increases in suicidal ideation were associated with depression severity and decreased during antidepressant treatment. In men, treatment with escitalopram is associated with lower risk of suicidal ideation compared to nortriptyline. Clinicians should remain alert to suicidal ideation beyond the initial weeks of antidepressant treatment.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: EudraCT (No.2004-001723-38) and ISRCTN (No. 03693000).

Original languageEnglish
Article number60
Pages (from-to)60-
JournalBMC Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2009


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic/adverse effects
  • Citalopram/adverse effects
  • Depressive Disorder/drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nortriptyline/adverse effects
  • Personality Inventory
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors/adverse effects
  • Suicide/statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult


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