Low-Dose Augmentation With Buprenorphine for Treatment-Resistant Depression: A Multisite Randomized Controlled Trial With Multimodal Assessment of Target Engagement

Hyewon H. Lee, Daniel M. Blumberger, Eric J. Lenze, Stewart J. Anderson, Deanna M. Barch, Kevin J. Black, Pilar Cristancho, Zafiris J. Daskalakis, Sarah A. Eisenstein, Yiyun Huang, Songye Li, Jennifer Lissemore, Jonathan McConathy, Benoit H. Mulsant, Tarek K. Rajji, Charles F. Reynolds, Yi Su, Zhude Tu, Daphne Voineskos, Jordan F. Karp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: The experimental therapeutics approach that combines a placebo-controlled clinical trial with translational neuroscience methods can provide a better understanding of both the clinical and physiological effects of pharmacotherapy. We aimed to test the efficacy and tolerability of low-dose augmentation with buprenorphine (BPN) for treatment-resistant depression, combined with multimodal assessment of target engagement. Methods: In this multisite randomized clinical trial, 85 participants ≥50 years of age with a major depressive episode that had not responded to venlafaxine extended release were randomized to augmentation with BPN or placebo for 8 weeks. The primary outcome measure was the Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale. In addition, three linked experiments were conducted to test target engagement: 1) functional magnetic resonance imaging using the monetary incentive delay task, 2) brain positron emission tomography of healthy participants using a novel kappa opioid receptor antagonist tracer [11C]LY2795050, and 3) transcranial magnetic stimulation measure of cortical transmission after daily BPN administration. Results: The mean ± SD dosage of BPN was 0.59 ± 0.33 mg/day. There were no significant differences between the BPN and placebo groups in Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale changes over time or adverse effects. BPN administration had minimal effects on functional magnetic resonance imaging blood oxygen level–dependent responses in regions involved in reward anticipation and response, no significant displacement of kappa opioid receptor radioligand in positron emission tomography imaging, and no significant changes in transcranial magnetic stimulation measures of inhibitory and excitatory cortical transmission. Conclusions: Our findings suggest a lack of clinical effect of low-dose BPN augmentation and lack of target engagement with this dosage and physiological probes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-135
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychiatry Global Open Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Antidepressants
  • Buprenorphine
  • Depression
  • PET
  • TMS
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Phychiatric Mental Health


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