Research Group 'Psychiatric Genetics', Head: Prof. Dr. Hans H. Stassen

Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics

Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zurich


Cutoff Scores as Measures for Treatment Outcome

Response Criteria

In a meta-analysis of short-term (4 weeks) trials with antidepressants, two response criteria were compared separately for low- (< 22), medium- (22-27) and high- (> 27) HAMD-17 score groups: (1) 50% reduction of HAMD-17 baseline score; and (2) 50% reduction of HAMD-17 baseline score plus HAMD-17 cutoff score < 10. The study was based on a large sample comprising a total of 2'793 patients of whom n=619 received imipramine, n=1836 moclobemide, and n=338 placebo (data provided by courtesy Hoffmann-La Roche, Basle).

Uniform Decrease of Baseline Scores

Our analysis showed that, on average, the HAMD-17 scores decreased uniformly in all three groups, independently of the initial severity at baseline. The relative score differences between high-scorers, medium-scorers and low-scorers remained virtually unchanged over the entire observation period. Furthermore, the more stringent criterion, combining a 50% baseline score reduction with a cutoff score < 10, implied a clear disadvantage to high-scorers to become responders, since cases with severe depression at baseline required much more time to reach this threshold than mild or moderately severe cases.

Drug-Placebo Differences

As to the question of evaluating differences between placebo and drugs, our analyses demonstrated that the simple response criterion of 50% HAMD-17 baseline score reduction was better suited to discriminate between placebo-responders and drug-responders in acute clinical trials.


Angst J, Stassen HH, Woggon B: Effect of neuroleptics on positive and negative symptoms and the deficit state. Psychopharmacology 1989; 99: 41-46
Angst J, Delini-Stula A, Stabl M, Stassen HH: Is a cutoff score a suitable measure of treatment outcome in short-term trials in depression? A methodological meta-analysis. Human Psychopharmacology 1993; 8: 311-317
Stassen HH, Delini-Stula A, Angst J: Time course of improvement under antidepressant treatment: a survival-analytical approach. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 1993; 3: 127-135
Stassen HH, Angst J, Delini-Stula A: Severity at baseline and onset of improvement in depression. Meta-analysis of Imipramine and Moclobemide vs Placebo. Eur Psychiatry 1994; 9: 129-136
Stassen HH, Angst J: Methods of estimating onset of improvement. Eur Neuropsychopharma­cology 1994; 4,3: 284-285
Kuny S, Stassen HH: Cognitive performance in patients recovering from depression. Psychopathology 1995; 28: 190-207
Stassen HH, Angst J, Delini-Stula A: Delayed onset of action of antidepressant drugs? Survey of results of Zurich meta-analyses. Pharmacopsychiatry 1996; 29: 87-96
Stassen HH, Angst J, Delini-Stula A: Delayed onset of action of antidepressant drugs? Survey of results of Zurich meta-analyses. Eur Psychiatry 1997; 12: 166-176
Angst J, Stassen HH: Methodische Probleme der Prüfung von Antidepressiva. In: Stieglitz RD, Fähndrich E, Möller HJ (eds): Syndromale Diagnostik psychischer Störungen. Hogrefe, Göttingen 1998: 5-12
Stassen HH, Angst J, Delini-Stula A: Onset of improvement under fluoxetine and moclobemide. Eur Psychiatry 1998; 13,3: 128-133
Stassen HH, Kuny S,. Hell D: The speech analysis approach to determining onset of improvement under antidepressants. Eur Neuropsychopharmacology 1998; 8,4: 303-310
Stassen HH, Angst J, Delini-Stula A: Fluoxetine versus moclobemide: cross-comparison between the time course of improvement. Pharmacopsychiatry 1999; 32: 56-60
Montgomery SA, Bech P, Blier P, Moller HJ, Nierenberg AA, Pinder RM, Quitkin FM, Reimitz PE, Rosenbaum JF, Rush AJ, Stassen HH, Thase ME: Selecting methodologies for the evaluation of differences in time to response between antidepressants. J Clin Psychiatry 2002; 63(8): 694-699
Stassen HH, Dahmen N, Hell D, Nürnberg P, Sander T, Toliat MR, Szegedi A: Genetic predisposition of antidepressant drug response. Am J Med Genetics 2003; 122: 123-124
Stassen HH, Angst J: Wirkung und Wirkungseintritt in der Antidepressiva-Behandlung. Medizinspektrum 2004; 15: 15-17
Stassen HH, Angst J, Scharfetter C, Szegedi A: Therapie mit Antidepressiva: Erfolg von genetischen Faktoren abhängig? Leading Opinions, Neurologie & Psychiatrie 2005; 6: 25-27
Lavergne F, Berlin I, Gamma A, Stassen H, Angst J: Onset of improvement and response to mirtazapine in depression: a multicenter naturalistic study of 4771 patients. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 2005; 1(1): 59-68
Stassen HH, Scharfetter C: Vulnerability, resilience and response to psychotropic drugs: shared genetic factors? Am J Med Genetics 2006; 141: 707-708
Stassen HH, Angst J, Hell D, Scharfetter C, Szegedi A: Is there a common resilience mechanism underlying antidepressant drug response? Evidence from 2848 patients. J Clin Psychiatry 2007; 68(8): 1195-1205
Szegedi A, Jansen WT, Van Willigenburg AP, Van der Meulen E, Stassen HH, Thase ME: Early improvement as a predictor of treatment outcome in patients with major depressive disorder: Why the first 2 weeks really matter —evidence from 6562 patients. J Clin Psychiatry 2009; 70(3): 344-353
Lötscher K, Anghelescu IG, Braun S, Bridler R, Stassen HH: Polypharmacy in psychiatry: clinical practice versus empirical evidence. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2010; 20 (Suppl. 3): 378-379
Kemp DE, Ganocy SJ, Brecher M, Carlson BX, Edwards S, Eudicone JM, Evoniuk G, Jansen W, Leon AC, Minkwitz M, Pikalov A, Stassen HH, Szegedi A, Tohen M, Van Willigenburg AP, Calabrese JR: Clinical value of early partial symptomatic improvement in the prediction of response and remission during short-term treatment trials in 3369 subjects with bipolar I or II depression. J Affect Disord. 2011; 130(1-2): 171-179
Stassen HH, Anghelescu IG, Angst J, Böker H, Lötscher K, Rujescu D, Szegedi A, Scharfetter C: Predicting Response to Psychopharmacological Treatment. Survey of Recent Results. Pharmacopsychiatry 2011; 44: 263-272


score reduction
Time course of recovery from depression under imipramine. The relative score differences between high-scorers, medium-scorers and low-scorers are virtually identical over the entire observation period (differences between medium- and low-scorers reduce when close to a HAMD-17 score of 10).
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