Depression is a common morbidity after traumatic brain injury. This network meta-analysis investigated the efficacy and tolerability of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic interventions for depression after traumatic brain injury.
We extracted randomized controlled trials examining pharmacologic or nonpharmacologic interventions with placebo- or active-controlled designs from PubMed, the Cochrane Library and ScienceDirect, from inception to October 30, 2018. We based study selection and extraction of a predefined list of variables on the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, and conducted meta-analysis procedures using random effects modelling. Primary outcomes were changes in depressive symptom severity after pharmacologic or nonpharmacologic treatment; the secondary outcome was tolerability, reflected in overall patient dropout rates.
Our analysis of 27 randomized controlled trials (10 pharmacologic, total n = 483, mean age = 37.9 yr; 17 nonpharmacologic, total n = 1083, mean age = 38.0 yr) showed that methylphenidate had significantly superior efficacy compared to placebo or control (standardized mean difference -0.91, 95% confidence interval [CI] -1.49 to -0.33). Sertraline was associated with significantly lower tolerability (i.e., a higher dropout rate) compared to placebo or control (odds ratio 2.65, 95% CI 1.27 to 5.54). No nonpharmacologic treatment was more effective than the others, and we found no significant differences in tolerability (i.e., dropout rates) among the nonpharmacologic treatments.
Heterogeneity in participant characteristics (e.g., comorbidities), study designs (e.g., trial duration) and psychopathology assessment tools, as well as small trial numbers for some treatment arms, could have been confounders.
The present network meta-analysis suggests that methylphenidate might be the best pharmacologic intervention for depressive symptoms related to traumatic brain injury. None of the nonpharmacologic interventions was associated with better improvement in depressive symptoms than the others or than control conditions. None of the pharmacologic or nonpharmacologic treatments had inferior tolerability compared to placebo or controls except for sertraline, which had significantly lower tolerability than placebo.