A randomised controlled trial of a mitochondrial therapeutic target for bipolar depression: mitochondrial agents, N-acetylcysteine, and placebo

Berk, Michael, Turner, Alyna, Malhi, Gin S, Ng, Chee, Cotton, Susan M, Dodd, Seetal, Samuni, Yuval, Tanious, Michelle, McAulay, Claire et al (2019) A randomised controlled trial of a mitochondrial therapeutic target for bipolar depression: mitochondrial agents, N-acetylcysteine, and placebo. BMC Medicine, 17 (18).

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-019-1257-1


A phasic dysregulation of mitochondrial bioenergetics may operate in bipolar disorder, increased in mania and decreased in depression. We aimed to examine efficacy of two add-on treatments in bipolar depression: N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and NAC with a combination of nutraceutical agents that may increase mitochondrial biogenesis. A three-arm 16-week, double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial, adjunctive to usual treatment, was conducted. Participants (n = 181) with bipolar disorder and current depressive symptoms were randomised to 2000 mg/day NAC (n = 59), 2000 mg/day NAC with the combination nutraceutical treatment (CT, n = 61), or placebo (n = 61). The primary outcome was change in Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) total score from baseline to week 16. Young Mania Rating Scale, Clinical Global Impression (CGI)-Improvement and CGI-Severity scales, Patient Global Impression scale, Social and Occupational Functioning Assessment Scale (SOFAS), Longitudinal Interval Follow-Up Evaluation - Range of Impaired Functioning Tool (LIFE-RIFT), and Quality of Life Enjoyment, and Satisfaction Questionnaire Short Form (Q-LES-Q-SF) were secondary outcomes. One hundred forty-eight participants had post-randomisation data and were analysed (NAC = 52, CT = 47, Placebo = 49). No between-group differences were found for the rate of change between baseline and 16 weeks on any of the clinical and functioning variables. Improvements in MADRS, BDRS, SOFAS, and LIFE-RIFT scores from baseline to the week 20 post-discontinuation visit were significantly greater in the CT group compared to those in the placebo. At week 20, the CGI-I was significantly lower in the CT group versus placebo. Gastrointestinal symptoms were significantly greater in the NAC than in the placebo group. These overall negative results, with no significant differences between groups detected at the primary outcome but some positive secondary signals, suggest either delayed benefit of the combination or an improvement of symptoms on withdrawal which warrants further exploration regarding the composition, mechanisms, and application of mitochondrial agents in illnesses characterised by mitochondrial dysfunction. ANZCTR ( ACTRN12612000830897 ).

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